Why make art?

I had a tough day yesterday. Things got on top of me and it took a post from Tanya here to refocus me. Its at times like this when art – looking at and interpreting or making it – becomes my salvation. Indeed it was one of the things Jonathan and I touched on some time ago in a tutorial and throughout the recent symposium  (usefully Jonathan is keeping a blog of the rest of the low residency here) when I met others on the MA I thought about this: why each of us is driven to make our own art.

Of course skill and available materials come into this but given our access to resources our choice of approach is pretty wide yet we all take a variety of approaches toward the art we make. But what makes us decide to create art in the first place?

The question of why we make particular pieces of art is a wide one and while people like Fry and Semioticians have tried to identify the causes and explain them I came across an interesting contemporary research article on this very subject. Townsend (2014) interviewed thirty professional artists to explore the states of mind experienced by artists as they make new artworks. The beginning of the article did not bode well though as the abstract suggested she had identified the process by which the art came into being rather than the substantive factors that gave rise to it. Thus for example, she described this process as being in three stages: genesis, development and separation – ie placing it in the public domain.

I am more interested in the artist’s motivations and so read on in the hope she would cover some of this, and indeed she did touch on some – but mainly that psychoanalytic literature relating to mother/child relationship. But it still proved worthwhile. Under the heading of genesis the author noted how artists used terms like ideas sprang suddenly and unexpectedly and were like an epiphany or, a leap of inspiration and suggested that they suggested a discontinuity between the conscious thoughts and the artistic idea. Such ideas are not borne out of reason and she uses the metaphor of crystallization to refine her understanding suggesting that the term suggests

That something was waiting ‘in solution’ in the unconscious until a particular circumstance (in this case the interview) acted as a catalyst for it to assume a particular shape and irrupt into consciousness”. (Townsend, 2014)

But rather than a singular catalyst she goes on to suggest that its more akin to a serious of elements coming together at a particular point to give rise to the work. These elements can be purely about form or substance the key though seems to be to me in her term of finding a solution to something. Thus the “something” is a problem or deficit that has not been explored. This resonated with me and also offered me a way of understanding others work where previously I could not necessarily see the motivation. Indeed I still might not see it but I can understand it in the above terms.

Then she turned to the practice of making art and her interviewees talked about the exhilaration and excitement of making something that works well and that sense of recognising that point when it is reached.

Temporarily, the new idea is seen as the perfect form.” (Townsend, 2014)

The author went on to explore the subject of intuition via psychoanalytical theory by citing Bollas and how the lived experience evokes our imagination and or thoughts begin to form. She said we all have a sort of ‘psychic gravity’ that attracts related elements (feelings, perceptions, fantasies) and these make new unconscious links that then finally emerge into consciousness.

The psychic gravity concept makes sense, indeed it has much in common with Fry’s “imagine life” (Fry, 1920) and so using it as a framework I can now see why some people make those works of art. The pieces are physical and or digital expressions of their imagined lives centred on their psychology. But really how far does that really get me? I think the issue of our needing to try to answer solve or satisfy some issue, need or question is what motivates. I don’t make art to sell. I don’t make it to share although engaging with others is an important aspect of it. I primarily make art to satisfy something internal within me.

Some is these issues were touched on my a colleague here. Why do you make your art? Do you consider yourself an artist?

Patricia Townsend (2014) A Life Of Its Own: The Relationship Between Artist, Idea And Artwork, Published in Free Associations: Psychoanalysis and Culture, Media, Groups, Politics, Number 65, February 2014,

Fry, R. (1909)(1920 edn) An Essay in Aesthetics in Vision and Design, Published by Chatto and Windus


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why make art?

  1. Interesting post, my first counter would probably just be “why not make art?”. You may as well ask why do anything really.
    Personally, and I think I made a post about this in the first term but for me I see it as a sort of coping or survival mechanism. I think life can be so hard in so many different ways, that for me, for some reason, when I’m making art it results in my head being a slightly nicer place in which to reside, I couldn’t tell you the mechanics of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. asitbeats says:

    It’s strange. U say u make art to sell, and for internal reasons. But not to show. I make art for internal reasons, and also I don’t like to show my work, mearly for personal enjoyment. But I would not like to sell. I would like to be good enough that people would buy me for what I have made but in selling my work I feel like I am losing a part of me. U want to sell ur art?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s