Why are we doing what we are doing (art, writing, whatever...)?
I have been asking myself this question a lot in the past few weeks. Since I registered my freelance activity and have been slowly moving towards getting a grip in children book writing and illustrating, I have been through a series of emotional up-and-downs. Clearly, the world is spectacularly uninterested in what we have to offer. I have an agent whose main activity so far has been to tell me what is NOT working in my ideas (which, it took me a long time to realize, is exactly what her job is). Social media is finicky, unpredictable and somewhat random in its response. I trust I will be able to publish something at some point, but it may take a lot longer than I expected....and the satisfaction to be had out of it, both professional and financial, is questionable. So I have been asking myself: why am I doing this really? I know I would not want to do anything else, but what is the reason?
I think I have a glimmer of an answer. When I draw, paint or write I am in a happy place. It is a place where my brain is completely focused, all concerns cease to exist and I feel in complete harmony with myself and the universe. It is what cognitive scientists call a "flow" status - and it does some pretty cool things to the pattern of brainwaves in your head. Drawing, painting and writing is the easiest way I know to go to my happy place. Spending time there (and since six years, I have been spending a big proportion of my day there) makes me a happy person - able to cope with anything that comes in a relaxed, serene way. It is also addictive - I would not be able to stop, no matter what the rest of the world thinks about the output. Is it the same for all the creatives, I wonder? It is what keeps us going, regardless of the fact that it is an endless journey with questionable rewards? Maybe it is not the whole story, but I am thinking this today, and it feels like I understood something.
So I wondered, what do you feel and think? Why do you want to illustrate and/or write? What is the engine that keeps you in this activity? Would love to read your answers!
@smceccarelli Here's my answer: I know what you mean about the uncertainty of it all, it is scary, but at the moment I'm not thinking about money I'm just learning and training my skills. When I think about money I freeze up and go into panic mode and then I get stressed. I'm still not really sure of what direction to go in anyway, especially regarding how to make money or even if I will be able to. For now I enjoy painting and drawing and coming up with ideas, it relaxes me and I love to do it.
@smceccarelli I think the main reason is just what you described it's to be in your happy place seeing that blank piece of paper come to life with your art work, looking at it afterward and wondering how the heck that happened. I'm not sure about you but when I'm really into my art, inking, drawing, painting whatever it may be I almost blank out and when I get to the end I'm not even sure quite how I made it. To me it's like magic. I used to draw and paint in high school and the I stopped for about 4 years not sure why but I did. I'm just starting to get back into it recently and can't imagine stopping again it's all I want to do. I think part of the reason I stopped was cause every one always said there was no career in it and it was impossible to make money that way but joining SVS has really inspired me to at least try and if I never make money in it who cares at least I'm doing what I love and makes me happy. Sorry for the rant ;) but if you really love it what other people think doesn't matter just always practice and improve. Good luck and do what you love!
@smceccarelli I had a hunch that you were struggling somehow after you got your agent. You seemed much more busy, and the things you have said about your experience after signing seemed somewhat stressful, such as your first book dummy not going over so well, and seeing you rework different styles after getting a rep. I would encourage you to stay the course, and consider this a growing pain. You can't have a diamond without fire and pressure, and so in order to make something beautiful it will take struggle. Those who avoid those things do not create virtue in any area of life, so I would suggest to embrace it.
The reason I do what I am doing, is because I believe writing stories is the most important thing in this world. I do think other fields are important, but nothing shapes culture more than writing, and after reading philosophy for most of my life, I have seen how a simple metaphor not only changed minds, but shift culture. Plato says that philosophers are the ones guiding the world. They are the navigators on the ship, who can chart a course by looking to the heavens, yet, the world doesn't take notice of philsophers as important (look at how we pay them in our world today) and he illustrates them as small and insignificant, yet in the world of ideas, it is said there is Plato, and everyone else is a footnote. Moreover, Tolkien in his writings took this idea from Plato and came up with the Hobbits, who are small, weak and not at all seen as those who can help in many ways, but illustrated them as the heroes. My point is that what I believe is that the most important things in this world are not seen as important by most, and in reality, being a creative is by definition, looking at something that everyone else has looked at, but noticing something that has gone unnoticed. So, if we are creatives, and doing the work that is interesting and life changing, it would be in an area that goes unnoticed.
I think it is easy to get lost in the process when it gets hard. It can become boring, or less honeymoon like, as it was when we first contemplated it. Though, from my experience, that when we reach the other side, it is better than we first hoped, and I am never dissapointed that I didn't quit. You are on a good track, and have some amazing talent. Don't let doubt take over, or the world's disinterest set you back. Who knows, you might write one of the greatest children's books ever.
Hope that helps somewhat. I know it can be a bit heavy handed. I am just that way lol. ;-)
@smceccarelli Wow - I think that we are in "meaning of life" territory here ...seriously :) I think that art is a separate thing from what we decide we believe art is. For me this is similar to talking about god. Neither can be what our intellect has settle on. The idea of art or god both spring from the ineffable depths of human experience...or existence ....i don't think we are artists and others are not... the wellspring is there for everyone....art is the province of humanity....and it may have to do with whatever god is..... (This would be a much better discussion over a pint or two :) So i have been talking about Art not Commercial art ...but where is the separation? Where i work there is a huge amount of Fine art on display....much of it looks like large thumbnails to me...or unfinished paintings ... the main difference from Commercial art being (in successful cases) the avoidance of being in Joyce's words " Didactic or pornographic" (this is from Joyce's theory of art as told by Stephen Dedalus in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"). Not a large difference in practice .... i think the fine artist and the commercial artist enter the same space internally when we are trying to make art... just as in fine art we are not always successful even though we finish a piece. I do think though that in the best cases that the fine artist is trying to connect with this wellspring (art) in some way.
O.k so where am i so far... Art is serious stuff and commercial artists are dealing with this serious stuff too but maybe not as an end in itself.
I have this image of myself (or any artist really) standing next to a pool of water (that wellspring again) that has made it's way from abyssal depths to form a beautiful little body of water in a grove deep in a primeval forest. The pond and everything around it is suffused with an uncanny light - this place is mysterious and sacred.. and the artist gazes into the waters and seeing his own reflection asks aloud the burning question "where's my money"
This is where our conflicts happen i think. And why the conflicts are So intense. We are making art and would like to possibly make a living from it....people do. I feel like whatever art is is less cooperative when we think about money. This is something i have witnessed many times in the fine art world. An artists starts selling paintings or sculptures because their work is good and it is authentic somehow. The money starts rolling in and then the artist mind shifts...completely...to How do i keep the cash flowing. The work suffers and the artist is no longer fun to be around.
I think if we just try not to look art straight in the eye and pretend as best we can that we are in it just to make beautiful pictures that we may end up making our best work......and maybe sell it :)
What was the question again?
@kevin-longueil Love the mental journey you went through here. It reminded me of a quote from Werner Herzog (he was a world-famous but pretty wacky film director - I happened to have read his auto-biography a while ago):
"Don't worry about money. If you do anything of substance, money will follow you like a mongrel on the street."
It is one of my favourite quotes, as well as another from him that I use often: "I do not look for ideas. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge."
I was not sure this was a philosophical or a pragmatic question.
I am a firm believer that there is no difference between commercial art and fine art (and if we dive into the details of how the fine art world works, I think commercial artists have the better end of the stick) - fame and money cannot be the reason for either category. I am not very much into the "self-expression" drive either. There are more effective ways to convey a message than to sit alone for 30 hours painting. Legacy cannot be the reason either - 99.99% of art is ephemeral at best. The chance of being that one in a thousand artist that leaves a lasting footprint is too slim to be a motivation. Just to be clear, this does not make me sad: I take it as the name of the game.
So I was plainly wondering about my reasons. Is it because I want to speak to more people than my friends and family? Because I believe what I have to say can make a difference for people, maybe improve their lives in some subtle or direct way? Or would I draw and paint even if nobody was watching?
These days I was thinking that the latter is probably true, and that makes me sort of happy...I was wondering if it is an illusion or if others feel the same way...
@smceccarelli Did you get signed as a writer/illustrator or just as an illustrator?
Both. It´s an editorial agent and will only rep book deals, nothing else. She signed me up based on the illustration portfolio, but already in our first (pre-contract) conversation she suggested I work on my own manuscripts too.
Now that I understand the nature of the beast a bit better, I know she took a big leap of faith. She turned down (kindly) my first two. Now we are working on a third that she thinks is promising, but she's still a tough critic.
There are weeks I wonder "why on earth did she sign me up" - especially after she delivered another tough love message. And then I think of all the time that she has already invested in looking and critiquing my stuff without any return and I understand when they say it is like a marriage contract - it´t not always rosy and it takes a great amount of trust and sometimes it goes awry, but it is an interpersonal relationship more than a business one.
It is just maybe worth mentioning that thinking that the work is done when you have an agent is like thinking that after marrying you can stop loving ;-)
I have been feeling the EXACT same thing! I notice I feel depressed when I don't draw for a while and when I get into a rhythm I'm the most confident person in the world, but it's also true that when I hear people who say "I never work because it never feels like work", I instantly look at my art and think that I have never really felt like that. I think art is hard, especially because of its emotional impact because what we do takes time and effort we can't easily get back, and the way to improve in this field is to go through MANY works of art that we cry over, to then patiently look over our mistakes, take it in, and then move on, which in general is a painful process. In the end, we do improve, but it's never easy seeing ourselves change whether it's our ideas or our views on the world. This is where people like @Jake-Parker and @Will-Terry come into my life. They've poured out their memories and their advice to the public online. I especially look to @Will-Terry as he talks about how hard art is, but he also talks about how it can get better if we just push through it. Jake Parker used to work for a studio, but then he found the chance to be able to work freelance and work on his own ideas! Will Terry used to work in editorial, but now I assume he's found his dream job in children illustration.
Basically, I think art is simply not easy, and may never feel so, but we all go through hard times and we all have to keep going
p.s: I love this video
Marsha Kay Ottum Owen
Art , for me can be therapeutic and it can also be painful. I often feel overwhelmed and "way behind" in what I want to be able to do. Sometimes I feel like a hamster in a cage but then, I find out I have actually improved a bit. I just keep running. I am pushing through my project knowing that it will never be as good as I want it to be unless it is the only thing I work on for life. When I painted my little monsters a while back for kids, that was fun! I'm going to do that again in October. It didn't matter if they were perfect but they were just fun and my fb friends enjoyed them so I got some relief from feeling totally miserable about my work for awhile :-) I sink and rise a little. That's what happens to me regularly but, there is something about the struggle that is good for me. It keeps me humble, that's for sure! Simona, you are one of my favorite artists. I'm so surprised you have to wait so long. Seems to me you would have been snatched up long ago! This is a painful business sometimes! I keep trying though so, it must be good :-)
This is a great question @smceccarelli, and it's one that I've been thinking a lot about lately.
I'm on reason 3 of why I do what I do. I kind of feel like each of these reasons is a layer of cake piled one on top of the other. Let me explain.
Reason 1: Doing it for me
The early years. I had a knack for drawing early on...but I admit, when I look at my early drawings they look no more special than any other kid who liked to draw. However, I got a lot of positive reinforcement from my parents and classmates, and that gave me confidence to to improve. I remember getting a rush when I would create things, sometimes with my art, sometimes with LEGO, sometimes it was just combining my toys into new creations. I loved putting something cool, that had my creative fingerprint on it, out into the world. I began to crave that feeling and I found myself in a cycle:
- step one: put myself in a position to get the creative rush
- step two: feed off the rush creating something as awesome as I could create
- step three: get positive feedback and reinforcement from parents, teachers, and peers on the thing I created
At every step I was feeling good things, and that's why I did what I did, to feel good. To keep those feelings coming I kept repeating the cycle.
What happens when you do something a lot, over and over and over again? You get good at it.
By the time I was in high school I was the best artist at the school. I was known as the kid who was good at drawing and was sought out to draw things for people. I designed a bunch of t-shirts, I was president of the Art Club (and we went on to win club of the year that year). I won the artist of the year award my senior year. So drawing and art was a central part of my identity.
Reason 2: Doing it for my responsibilities
When it was time to go get a job and make something of myself I realized I wasn't qualified, nor interested in doing anything that wasn't creative. I soon found myself working for an animation studio, getting married, and having a kid all in the space of 3-4 years in my early 20's.
Now doing what I was doing meant doing the thing I was good at, and letting personal satisfaction take a back seat to getting a steady paycheck. For about 12 years I grinded at different studios working on projects that I was sort of interested in (I wasn't super excited designing foliage for background environments in talking animal movies full of fart jokes). But I was getting better at my craft and supporting a family.
I was doing what I did to support a family and a lifestyle.
But I still craved the rush from phase 1, so I did a lot of personal side projects that allowed me to go through those 3 steps. I posted on forums, then blogs, then social media, then got work published. I got the rush of creating things I thought were awesome, and were things that I wanted to create AND got a lot of positive reinforcement from my peers.
Reason 3: Doing it to for the community
While the rush, and the money are still a part of what I do, I’m finding myself more and more motivated to share what I do with others as a way to improve their life on some level. That’s why I like teaching, I like making youtube videos that unpack issues/problems facing creative people. I like drawing things that have a story to them; they aren’t just pretty pictures, but hopefully they make someone stop and take someone to a place of imagination.
If I have a mission now, it’s to help elevate people’s ability to create good things. I want people to have that awesome feeling you get when you make something, I want them to get positive feedback from peers (that’s why I love what’s going on here on this forum) and I would love it if they could someday turn it into a career or a way to supplement their income.
So, to wrap it up. At first I was drawing because I wanted to do what was good for me.
Then that turned into drawing because I wanted to do what was good for those I was immediately responsible for.
Then that turned into drawing because I want to do what is good for the larger community.
All of this said, there's nothing wrong for remaining in one phase or another, or a combination of phases. If you draw because it is completely gratifying to you, you don't need any other reason to do it.
Anyway, thanks for this question. You helped me nail down some things I've been thinking a lot about and haven;t quite put into words until now.
If I don't make art I start to get irritable and anxious and generally unpleasant to be around after a few days. So... I guess I'm an addict? :P
Marsha Kay Ottum Owen
There are some really great comments on here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and asking the question!
@withlinesofink i feel the same! Its my happy place;)
@smceccarelli Werner Herzog - still remember "Aguirre Wrath of God" (long time ago!) So intense and dark - The quote you mention about money reminds me of similar quotes by Joseph Cambell and Carl Jung - must be something to it ..... this is totally off the subject but have you read "A Tree is Nice"? For some reason your treehouse piece made me think of it - i could see that piece in a book about summer or the changing seasons or fun - the text of the book being a simple poem or very short story like in "A Tree is Nice" ....random thought :)
Rebecca Hirsch 0
@jake-parker That's a great response. Thank you.
@kevin-longueil I have seen only fragments of that film and it looked like the kind of thing that would give me nightmares for many years. Psychological horror is so much more powerful than "in-the-face" horror.
I have never read "A tree is nice". When I was painting that I was thinking of summer and friendship and a river I used to go to during the school holidays...and then I started reading mid-grade books ;-)
I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately and the forums here have been helping me. I've been stalling somewhat because I was trapped with the idea of becoming a freelance Illustrator or wondering if I should be a concept artist just to try and pay the bills, but I have come to the decision that I don't really want to do freelance commercial or editorial Illustration at least for now anyway because I want to work on my own projects which I've been putting off time and time again due to stress about "getting a real admin type job", which I've never had much success or interest in and I can't really do anyway because of back and health problems. I had so many bad experiences doing freelance work when I did website design I still have a stigma about working with clients I have to sort out. As well as this my sister's friend and boss (for her colour work on his graphic novels) mr Doug TenNapel visited us the other day (he's just on holiday in the UK) and he told me I should work on my own story based projects and just finish something. He said the first thing will be crap, but it's important you finish it and prove to yourself you can do it, then do another one, and another one.... So that's my task. I've got to stop trying to come up with a logical reason to do it and just do it.