I received the following question from Kerstin during last year’s 365 class. I wanted to share it with you now as it is a question we all probably struggle with! She wrote:
I want to ask you if you know these dogmas and how do you deal with the accompanying feelings: “My art isn’t important” and “what the hell my art is good for?”
I really appreciate your question because it’s such a huge one and dear to my heart, and I hope I can answer sufficiently in this email. And if not, I will try to improve it later and will share it then, too! But I will do my best here.
I will answer for myself as that is the only way I really can answer it. 😀 My answer has three parts:
- The short answer, I think, is that the artwork I create isn’t really good for anything much at all. A few people might like it and enjoy it, but in the grand scheme of things, the artwork I make doesn’t matter all that much. Most of the time it just goes in drawers!
- On the other hand, it is ALL that matters.
- Or somewhere, anywhere, in between, depending on the moment and my mood.
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Chinese writer and artist Gao Xingjian wrote (and this is from memory, so I might get it wrong): “An artist never changed the world; self-fulfillment is the best he can hope for.”
I think this quote speaks to the first part of the above answer, where I feel that artwork I make — the actual drawings and paintings — really aren’t that important.
It’s very likely that my work is never going to be collected by art galleries or museums, and most of the artwork I make is never going to be seen by more than a few people. So why do it?
I don’t know.
But I DO know that it is something that I have a passion for, that I enjoy doing, and that it does seem to encourage a few people to try it for themselves, which continues the cycle, possibly, of more people using more paper to make things that get put into drawers. 😉
BUT! We’re forgetting the PROCESS if we think that way. 😀
The actual making of artwork provides me with three things:
1. When I draw or paint, I feel better. I feel calmer, happier. I’m doing something I like to do, which makes me a happier person, which makes my husband and the rest of my family, happier people.
2. When I draw or paint, I am solving problems and challenging myself, and there is satisfaction in that… humans love to learn!! A side benefit… these problem-solving skills I can take into the rest of my world, such as running the business or navigating a friendship.
3. When I draw or paint, I either have something I like at the end of it that I can share or something that goes into the scrap drawer to be painted over later… a physical piece of work.
You can see that the artwork itself is just one of the three things above, just 1/3 of the benefits! The other two things are arguably ways that you would encourage anyone to spend their time doing — doing something they love and learning new things.
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So that is what I mean when I say that making art is “ALL” that matters. It is something I love and it is the thing with which I choose to spend the bulk of my “learning” time. In other words, making artwork is my way of being in this world, interpreting it, trying to make sense of it.
Other people do it through sports or exercise, science, business, homemaking, cooking… we all have our things that we do that seem both frivolous at times (even cooking, does it matter in the grand scheme of things whether to use regular salt or sea salt?), but serve as the conduit through which we live our lives.
Therefore, it is “everything.”
I learn from drawing and painting that life is full of paradox. There is duality in everything… we both love and hate, we both must be gentle and firm, etc.
For example, when I draw, I have to hold two seemingly contradictory things at the same time: I have to try and be gentle with myself and at the same time try and improve/get better (which means that at some level I know there is room for improvement, which is where the gentleness comes in).
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Finally, even though I know the above is true in my head, I get off track on a regular basis and feel dumb about all of the hundreds (thousands?) of drawings I have in drawers and what have I done with my life?!!
I find life wonderful, but I also find life very hard.
I do have clinical depression and, though it is mostly managed, it kicks my butt some days. So sometimes I don’t do well at all with the feeling; I cast about.
Other days, when I’m feeling better, I can reach out to a friend and they can help remind me that I am okay just as I am, whatever I do with my time is my own business (as long as I’m not hurting people) and that taking an hour to draw a silly animal today is really okay.
Sometimes I read books by other creatives on the “why of creativity”… “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron are two that have helped me…
Mostly I try to remember that the feeling that I suck, my artwork sucks, life sucks… will pass. It always does (with the help of medicine and people around me… and drawing and painting).
And I’m pretty sure that the fact that I feel bad about all the art sitting in drawers is just a substitute for feeling bad about myself IN GENERAL, and that if I can continue to work on that (paradoxically, THROUGH making my artwork), the rest will take care of itself.
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I hope this helps in some way, Kerstin!