If you’ve ever questioned the reason for making art, you’re not alone.
After a particularly rough period—be it something in the news or circumstances in your career—you might catch yourself asking, “What’s the point?” You might even begin to see your work as frivolous.
With so much negativity in print and online, it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture. Well-meaning thoughts might enter your head.
Shouldn’t I be out there saving people?
Shouldn’t I be waging peace?
Shouldn’t I be protecting the environment?
These are noble pursuits but are they why you, in all of your magnificence, were put on earth?
After being asked these questions by a number of students and clients, I thought of at least eight reasons why you should be making art.
And a quick note: This is a repost and update from May 14, 2015 (with original comments kept intact) because every so often you need to be reminded that what you do has great value in the world.
1. Art is why you’re here.
Do you see that NOT making art isn’t going to save the world?
In fact, it is doing the opposite because one less person isn’t living their potential.
Not making art is depriving the world. Not just the potential of your art, but of the entirety of you.
Making art makes you whole and allows you to contribute to the world from a healthier position.
2. Art saves lives.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of hearing about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, and I don’t even have kids.
I have nothing against these pursuits (my husband has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics). But I believe that there are children who will never be scientists or mathematicians and who will grow up to solve big problems for society because they are creative and have developed critical thinking skills. They are probably disenfranchised from the current education system, but they are saved by art, music, literature, dance, and poetry.
My heart weeps for these kids who are being taught that their talents and interests don’t fit into the box. Let’s hear it for STEAM, which adds the arts back into the curriculum.
While I’m riled up …
Why don’t we start an arts education revolution to stand up for future artists and arts supporters? (#SupportArtsEd) If we don’t, who will?
3. Art nourishes the soul.
It’s a cliché, but absolutely true. Art nourishes souls.
But it doesn’t have this effect on everyone’s soul because not everyone is privy to experiencing art. They didn’t grow up with it and, therefore, don’t have a place in their lives for it right now.
Art only nourishes the soul of the artist and of those who are privileged enough to experience it.
Privilege doesn’t have anything to do with income level. In this case, privilege means access. If kids don’t make art in school or take trips to museums, they are less likely to experience art as adults.
4. Art encourages us to go within.
In all of the hustle of our techno-filled daily life, art encourages us to slow down and venture within ourselves.
When we experience art, we escape to a place of peace and of contemplation. We are reminded of the richness of life.
We need art for respite.
5. Art helps connect us to one another.
How delightfully ironic that art can be both a contemplative and social experience.
Art unites us, but it does so differently than when we’re cheering for a sports team.
This was evident to me when I visited The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park in 2005. It was a cold February and the park was brown. Thousands of people were out walking around the paths and through the flowing orange (“saffron”) gates – together.
We were simultaneously experiencing it individually and as a group. People were smiling, laughing, and posing for pictures—gate after gate after gate.
Art questions and confounds while also delighting us.
Neighbors got in the spirit of the event by hanging orange fabric from their windows just as one might hang the banner of a favorite football team.
It was the Super Bowl for art!
Pay attention and you might find the same thing going on at your local art museum.
6. Art connects us to civilization.
While art makes it easy for us to go within, it also reminds us to look beyond ourselves and even our contemporary communities.
I started college life as a painting major. I was a pretty good draftsman, but I never had the urge to paint every day.
What captured my fancy were my art history classes. Not because I loved memorizing slides, names, styles, and dates, but because the history of art taught me about the world.
Art was my entry point to history, religion, philosophy, geography, other cultures, mythology, science, revolution, and so much more.
Art is a vehicle for experiencing the world.
7. Art completes our humanity.
It seems appropriate to share the thoughts of poet, critic, and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at a conference in 2003. His address, as I recall, was focused on the need for arts education but it could be equally applied to our everyday lives.
The Greek word for art (“to make”) is poiesis, which Gioia described as “a way of knowing the world” separate from but equal to science and mathematics. As I addressed above, the latter two disciplines carry much more weight in budgeting by lawmakers and those who set school curriculum standards.
When art is seen as a luxury, Gioia’s argument goes, it is considered unnecessary to our survival and, indeed, to our prosperity. We are complicated beings, not just analysts. We have emotions, desires, and fears that can’t be explored or expressed through science and math alone.
Gioia explained that art is used to educate children about their feelings, not just their analytical thought processes. This comes in handy when, as adults, they are asked to analyze situations and not just facts and figures.
The arts foster individuality, freedom, and self-expression, the very ideals on which our nation is built. Art is not a luxury, but absolutely necessary, to complete our humanity. It is “mainstream civic common sense,” Gioia said.
In a commencement address to Seattle Pacific University, Gioia drove it home: “Art … simultaneously addresses our intellect, our senses, our emotions, our imagination, our intuition, our memory and our physical body — not separately, but together, simultaneously, holistically.”
8. We need you to tell the story.
A few final words if you’re not already convinced that there is value in continuing to make art.
Let’s face it: the world has always been screwed up. Yes, there is much beauty and magnificence throughout the centuries, but there have been ruinous wars, brutal treatment of our brothers and sisters, and devastating natural disasters.
Artists have shone a light on inequity and injustice throughout history, even when they seem unbearable to view.
Francisco Goya painted the execution of Spanish patriots rising against Napoleon’s army; Picasso painted the horrific aftermath of the bombing of a Basque village by Spanish Nationalists; and the Maya artists depicted sacrificial captives.
You should keep making art exactly because the world is screwed up.
The world is screwed up. Make more art!
We need people devoted to communicating through the universal language of art to tell the story of our age. We need more people who are devoted to beauty and to peace.
That’s your purpose. That’s why you were put here and given the curiosity and talent of an artist. To abandon it would be tragic.