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What’s the Point of Art?

If you ask 10 people this question it’s likely you’ll get 10 different answers which may look something like this;

  1. To look good on a wall
  2. To challenge ways of seeing the world
  3. Autobiography
  4. Catharsis
  5. Documentation
  6. Investment potential
  7. To illustrate an idea
  8. To challenge cultural conventions
  9. To reflect the world back at us
  10. Self-expression

There are multiple reasons why art exists, and why people choose to make it. Maybe the point depends on where you’re standing- are you in an art gallery or in an art  studio?

Are you looking at art or are you making it- and why shouldn’t YOU be the one making it? Everyone has the right to enjoy drawing or painting and everyone is free to explore a little cathartic self expression. So what’s stopping you?

The chances are it’s fear. It’s always fear.

Any form of creative self expression can leave us feeling exposed or vulnerable and you may worry about what other people think of your work?

  • Is it childish?
  • Is it a waste of time?
  • Is it just a bit rubbish?

Or you may worry about what other people think of YOU for making it?

“She fancies herself as a bit of an artist” (rolled eyes)

Elizabeth Gilbert in BIG MAGIC writes;

You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder”

We can be so consumed by fear and so fixated on how the end product looks we devalue the actual process of making art and how that feels. In our culture we’re obsessed by curating and documenting our daily activities online and it can sometimes feel like the things we enjoy quietly by ourself- without an audience of approving strangers- is boring or meaningless.

Is it only the things that get documented or witnessed that are real and valuable?

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“If an artist makes some work and no-one is around to see it, does it even matter?”

What things do you enjoy doing that don’t require a critical audience?

  • If you enjoy reading novels has anyone ever suggested that you host live book reading events on Facebook?
  • If you enjoy walking in solitude do you feel under pressure to facilitate group walks for others?
  • If you’ve ever sung loudly and out of tune in the shower do you consider this preparation for your debut at the Albert Hall?

I hope the answer to all of the above is no – so why do we judge artistic activities so harshly and with such high expectations? And anyway, when you really think about it – who are the other people you worry about? If you enjoy splashing a bit of paint about on a canvas your loved ones will genuinely be happy for you!

If you’ve ever felt that creative urge you’ll know the only way to scratch the itch is by doing something creative.

It’s just not possible to feel artistically fulfilled by reading a book about it, listening to a podcast, making a Pinterest board or intense daydreaming – I’ve tried all these approaches but the only thing that works is direct action.

So, if you’ve been itching to do something arty but something’s holding you back – today I’m giving you permission to paint and inviting you to join me in a 10 minute painting warm up activity designed to start a fire inside you.

No- you probably won’t change any cultural conventions today, and it’s unlikely what you create will have much investment potential – but self expression and cathartic pursuits are undeniably good for your soul. The patriarchal expressionists of the last century didn’t worry about what people thought of them – so why should you?

Oh- and don’t be put off by how your work looks – that’s not the point. The point is you’re exercising your creativity muscles and you have to work through the rubbish stuff to get to the really good bits.

Tim Ferris- the stratospherically successful writer, podcaster and entrepreneur talks about writing two crappy pages a day. Once these two pages are done the good stuff starts to happen.

This warm up exercise is equivalent to Ferris’s two crappy pages of writing….but actually these first two crappy paintings could end up being the best work you’ve done in a long time……

To do this exercise you’ll need:

  • Some paint. (cheap poster paint is absolutely fine)
  • A paint brush. (absolutely any brush will do)
  • Some coloured chalks, pastels, coloured pencils or even felt pens. (steal these from your children/grandchildren or anyone else who has a bigger art kit than they need)
  • Two sheets of plain white paper. (thick paper is better but not essential)
  • An open mind.
  • A joyful heart.

Have fun!

This is the DAY TWO warm up activity in my Creativity Firestarter course: 


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Have been following via your newsletters and presence at the Forum. Your teaching goes from strength to strength.

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