Why do you make art?

  • Hi everyone, I’ve been reflecting for myself what my purpose is as an artist, I’m trying to figure out what kind of art I want to make and why. I thought this could be an interesting discussion and possibly inspiring, so ...why do you make art? Do you feel like you make it for a specific purpose? Are we all just lost souls painting aimlessly in the dark? 😂

    I sometimes feel lost or torn between all the avenues available as an artist. I started working in game art, some advertisement/film and then children’s media for the last five years. Maybe I’m just getting older but I sort of realized one day that I now make art to make money. Which I guess Is a product of making it your career, and at least I get to do something I love for a job, but I feel like I’ve lost my purpose. I’ve been having success helping others with tutorials on Instagram and now my YouTube and I love the idea of helping others along the way, but I don’t want to stop creating myself. But I’m not sure what I want to create or why I’m doing it anymore. I don’t know if I want to do children’s books or something else but I can’t shake the feeling that I want to step away from making art to make money and to make art to do _________ something lol

    Anyone feeling the same way or feel like they have clarity on what they are trying to achieve? Or is making art to make money just the goal and that’s fine too? 😂

  • Hi @carlianne! Very interesting topic. It comes up a lot in the artist circles I'm in, so I definitely don't think you're alone! In my opinion, finding purpose is actually the underlying longing most artists have when they're seeking to develop their style. We get wrapped up in trying to find a unique look for our art, but what we really crave is finding what you said--our purpose. I think finding a purpose is kind of synonymous with finding something to SAY with our art. Maybe looking at it that way will open up some thoughts.

    I'm still very much a student artist, but I've been creative for a long time, and rarely feel without purpose. I think it helps to take a step back sometimes and formulate or redesign our own personal artistic vision or mission statement. You know, promoting the cause of ____ that you feel really strongly about, or incorporating this or that that is really meaningful to you into your work. For me, I feel great purpose in creating stories and art that show good moral values. Now, it isn't my focus--it's preachy and obnoxious that way--but it's a kernel of purpose that I can find in just about anything I work on. Not all jobs have to be or can be totally in line with a personal vision, but if you have one in mind, and can sometimes tinker with a personal project, it really helps. And it can kind of link together all the disparate kinds of work that we artists tend to do, so we don't feel like we're spinning our wheels.

    A great resource that I've used is the Ken Coleman Show podcast/radio show. He's not really savvy about art, per se--he's affiliated with the financial dude Dave Ramsey--but he's got a really great collection of questions to ask yourself, specifically to find clarity and know your purpose.


    Hope that helps! Best of luck ☺

  • @MarksByMallory oh cool I’m excited to check out the podcast! I am definitely in a “defining my style” kind of moment so that definitely resonates with me

  • SVS OG

    This is such a great topic, @Carlianne! I can see how you would tend to lose sight of your purpose when you look at art as a job. I think that's one reason Will, Jake and Lee sometimes talk about the pros and cons of having a non-art related day job. But I also realize that you are in a particular season of life right now, with small children. And hey, don't forget the pandemic!

    When I think about why I make art, some of the following come to mind, not necessarily in this order:

    It comes naturally and it's not like, say, picking up the violin and expecting to suddenly play the Sibelius Concerto. I've put in my 10,000 drawing hours, studied art, and while I feel like a relative beginner, it's still a go-to for me. And when I walk down the street, I people watch. I see color in the shadows.

    On the other hand, It's a constant challenge with infinite room for growth. So many possibilities! And I love looking at other people's work!

    If you do it well, it moves people. You can tell stories with it. If done well, my work can become part of a child's life, like it was for me a child. I love the idea of that link, of passing on the gift.

    And finally, about 7 years ago I realized I really needed something that depended primarily on my own initiative. I needed something of my own. I hadn't drawn regularly in years, so it was a gradual process that finally came into focus with illustration, and then slowly developing a style. But it was important to re-start the journey, not as a precocious kid this time, but as a mature person with a personal POV.

    I do hope to make enough money to live on at this some day, but I realize that at my age it's a long shot. That's okay, because of the paragraph above. But I'm going to try!

    It probably wouldn't hurt to keep a journal! Or do we do better thinking in pictures? A very personal, no-holds-barred sketchbook, maybe?

  • Awesome @carlianne! I hope it is helpful. 🙂 I also like @LauraA's suggestion of keeping some kind of journal/sketchbook! I do that a lot, and it is definitely helpful.

  • Pro

    @carlianne For me I just do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy drawing and painting, and I especially enjoy creating something. Whether it's for money of for a personal project of for a higher "purpose", I just like putting out something into the world that wouldn't be there without me. Making a living from it just means that I get to do it a lot more, because if not I'd have to spend large amounts of my time doing something else to survive so my art time would be just a few little hours every week.

  • @NessIllustration
    Yeah I think that’s the main reason why I’m okay with doing art as a job and not just to fulfill an inner desire to communicate or create something specific. I have tried not doing art as a career for awhile and I felt deeply like there was something missing. So, at least I get to have the joy of creating even if I’m creating someone else’s vision with them.

    I think right now I’m in a unique position where I can start doing my own projects and not work solely gig to gig and realized I don’t know what I would want to do if I really could do anything I wanted.

  • @LauraA

    That’s great advice Laura! Definitely the pandemic and children etc have contributed to this thought process 😂. That and my husband and I might move so there is the chance that we could afford to make less income which takes the pressure off me to make art just to make money.

    I started doing some comic like sketches to capture images or life that I could illustrate later, I like the idea of doing that daily to help me process my thoughts

  • Pro

    @carlianne Sometimes having infinite choices is more difficult than having limited choices! In situations like this I often find myself paralyzed, unsure where to go, because all paths are open. When you only have the one path, you start walking confidently and never look back...

  • @NessIllustration exactly, it's just like having a blank canvas!

  • @carlianne
    It is true we all have a specific purpose, and it is also true we are all just lost souls painting aimlessly. At least, I feel that I am both, depending at which day, or which time of the day you ask me this question. 😂

    Illustrating books is such a weird job. I felt I was in the dark cave for months, and I can not really show the work to anyone, except the agent and editors which I have never met and barely know personally. I actually really miss the days before I start doing client work, engaging with the community here, geek out about value, colour and composition.

    Then one day a couple weeks ago, I remembered the main reason I started doing the art thing was that I do not want a full-time job which I spend my whole day on someone else's vision. If I end up illustrating books after books, leaving no space for personal projects, then it is not that different from having a full-time job, working on someone else's vision. I suddenly see why I felt I was in the edge of burnout. That was the moment, I grabbed my laptop and emailed my agent that I need to re-shuffle my schedule for this year to leave some space for me to do silly stories, to learning new skills, and to spend time on the forum here chatting with other artists.

    I do not really know what kind of stories I want to write and paint. Right now, I am aiming for quantity over quality when comes to writing stories. I figured, if I write enough (and read enough too), I will find out eventually...

  • @carlianne I love this question and it's so cool to read everyones different experiences. For me making art is the way I process and understand the world. There have been so many things in my life that the ability to create has gotten my through. I really feel so fortunate every day that this is the path I chose, my world is colorful and full of magic because of it.

    I understand your feeling of being "lost or torn between all the avenues available", I think we all cycle through that at different points when we decide this is what we want to do with our lives. I spent many years exploring different avenues: I showed work in galleries, I owned a gallery, I did the craft fair tour for a few years (haha, too many things to list) and through all those avenues I learned that, for me, I didn't enjoy being dependent on selling art as my primary source of income. I've been lucky enough to find jobs working for art companies and through these jobs I have learned so much, even been paid to learn skills that have improved me as an artist. Now I'm here with all you wonderful people, my daughter is grown, I have a job that I enjoy, so I can spend my evenings and weekends exploring and simply making what I want because I want to. I always crave more time to work on art, but I think this makes me work harder and really appreciate the time I do have.

    I guess at the end of the day all we can do is pick a direction and go, there's no right or wrong and if we don't like it we can take what we've learned and try something new.

    Thank you for starting this discussion, it's always good to reflect and I'm really enjoying everyone's responses.

  • @carlianne I'm on the other side of that 🙂 I'm working towards making a living with art, coming from doing a job that I've liked very much for almost 15 years. I still love what I do, but after so many years I feel like I'm coming to the point where I'm getting jaded with the grind part of the job. The mundane tasks are starting to grate on me more than the creative side of it invigorates me. So now I'm looking down the road and saying "In 10 years do I REALLY want to be doing this?". And if the answer isn't "YES!" then I think it's time to start looking at what else is down the road.

    I think what you're experiencing is totally natural. Anyone I've ever met that found their "dream job" at some point found that they had another dream somewhere down the road. And then another. And another one after that. We're not supposed to love the same thing until we're dead. I just don't think we're wired that way. Eventually we grow to want other things. It's kind of funny how people are simultaneously prone to falling into patterns while being unhappy with our lack of variety. And while I'm not sure what that transition I'm in looks like for me, I'm looking forward to looking back in 15 years from now and see how I got it to all work!

  • @xin-li You know I totally agree that if you are working as an artist for someone else, that you HAVE to create your own art and projects on the side. I tried not doing that for several years and my art suffered and I started to lose my love for it. I'm so glad you've decided to carve time out for yourself! To be honest, one of the reasons I came to SVS was to start working on my own projects again, but now I think I'm getting spoiled and now it's the only thing I want to do! Which is okay, I just need to figure out what that is. I think last year I just wanted to figure out what style I wanted to paint in, and I guess this year I want to figure out what medium!

  • @Tiffany-Thomas Thanks for your response! I'm curious, what is that you do for your day job now?

  • @carlianne figuring out art stuff takes time, it is all just process. I tend to think of it as collecting puzzle pieces. I have no idea what the big picture is going to look like, but every little thing I understood about art, it is a puzzle piece I collected.

    I was also very spoiled with my personal projects for a while. Then client projects kicked in. The way I got through them is to think of them as mileage - I believe the volume of completed pieces is an important thing for beginner artists. I use the client based work to accumulate the volume of completed work, as they have a clear defined deadline, and I have a commitment to do so. Once there is limitations, I have to work creatively to get through. I do see a visible improvement after painting a big volume of work over a relatively short time period.

    I also want to play with medium this year 🙂

  • @carlianne I do a bunch of different things for my company but I'd say my primary job is curating and designing art for hotels. I am still dealing with designers, art directors and timelines but I'm less emotionally invested since the purpose of the art is to design for a specific location. It's challenging at times, depending on the project & how many revisions are needed, but I really enjoy the variety. Sometimes I'm collaging photography in photoshop, sometimes I'm painting abstracts or ocean scenes, etc. I think what I enjoy the most is how much I learn from each project, it could be experimenting with new art material to try and get the right effect or just simple things like exploring color or composition. I've also learned so much about curation, design, sequencing images, merchandising, marketing, branding (haha, I still need to learn how best to apply this knowledge to my own work).

  • SVS OG

    @Tiffany-Thomas I’ve always wanted to do hotel art. And wondered who actually did that. Now we know. That’s pretty cool.

  • @carlianne Great question! I think it's easy to get lost in the flow of things and self reflection like such is not only helpful but also necessary!

    Technically, I've been freelancing since 2015 but after spending 4 years feeling lost professionally and personally and grasping at straws, I have only just gained confidence that I'm on the right path. There are so many life lessons I learned in the past few years which I see being so wonderfully and creatively expressed in children's books which is why I am attracted to them.

    I do believe that purpose can keep changing with time. I recently found a stash of my old artwork from 8-15 years ago. And my art at that time was purely a vent of personal emotions. My current purpose revolved around being financially independent and also contributing to a child's life through children's book. Like Xin mentioned, since finding representation, I've been missing creating personal art and just connecting with people and experimenting on my own. But I feel I've been hustling for so long without results, so I'm allowing myself to enjoy the fact that I'm able to make a living by doing something I love. I know in the future I want to author-illustrate a book and teach others as well. It's nice to have some clarity of though after a looooong period of clouded mind.

  • I usually do art because I have an image in my head I would like to share with someone or there’s a certain action or change I want to incite in others.

    There are times I can’t explain how I feel in words so I say them through art instead.

    To share, here a short podcast which really changed my mindset on “finding a purpose in my art” which I found comforting: http://www.makersandmystics.com/makersandmystics/2018/6/8/hans-rookmaaker-art-needs-no-justification

    Hope it’s useful to you 🙂

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