Marja-Leena Rathje
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Why Make Art?

Anna Conti in her Working Artist's Journal ( April 7/04 entry) brings up this perennial question that we artists are always asking of ourselves:

"Why make art? What is it good for?"

She writes: "I don't think we'll ever know. The compulsion to make pictures, sculptures, stories, or music has been part of being human since prehistoric times. What changes are the explanations we come up with to explain or justify our behavior. We have to come up with an explanation that will convince people to leave us alone so that we can keep making art. Or better yet, an explanation that will convince people to support us in making art."

I particularly enjoyed all the quotes from many well-known artists answering this question.

Marja-Leena | 07/04/2004 | 3 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Concepts, Other artists


A very interesting article. The 3 groupings are a useful analytical tool. I think Margaret Attwood got nearest to my feelings, but the diversity of the motivations expressed by the artists indicates that there are no definitive answers.

Wrinkles interest me in this field. Those artists are all A-class practitioners so their views have great validity. But what drives people to persist in producing bad art? Art as therapy, art as hobby, art to pass time, cathartic art. The triumph of hope over experience. It's less than the pursuit of excellence yet is often quite as passionate.
Art is made by hand/eye/brain combination, yet there are blind artists, mouth painters, mentally ill geniuses. Phenomena occur, like that educationally challenged child who compulsively made magnificent architectural drawings with perfect recall. So art is also chemically induced, chemically driven?
Fascinating stuff. What drives you?

What a wonderful discussion this topic makes! I envy your very articulate writing, and my lack thereof is another reason why Anne Conti's article appealed to me.

What drives me? That is indeed a challenging question, and I can identify with many of the artists. Like Anne Conti, I am mostly in the first category, inner directed and process-oriented. I force myself occasionally to do #2 & 3 to "sell myself". I have always done art since I was a child, even had my very own little attic garret in one house we lived in when I was about eight or nine! If I don't make art I am not a very happy person. I suppose if I had not chosen to study art, I might have been a "Sunday painter", maybe a bad artist?? or I think a weaver!

In a way, doing this blog is doing the #2 & #3 - trying very hard to articulate what I am and what I am doing, to both myself and to the outside world. Borrowing others' writings is a helpful aspect of blogging.

Thanks for your interest Anna , it makes it all so interesting and worthwhile, actually very satisfying!

Hey, I should have written all this in another post!??!

Thanks for linking to my blog, Marja-Leena. I too am a new blogger (since the first of this year) and I think it's a wonderful medium for connecting with other artists who wonder about the same issues. This one, "Why make art? What is it good for?" has kept me reading, searching, and asking for as long as I can remember. I feel compelled to make art, can't really do without it. So I naturally hope to find some redeeming reason for my behavior.