Why do you make art?


Dear Artist,

A subscriber asked us this question for a university thesis: “Why do you make art?” I included it in a previous letter and some responses came in.


“Lake Superior” ca.1924
oil on canvas, 40 1/16 x 50 1/8 inches
by Lawren Harris (1885-1970)

I knew we were onto something when another subscriber wrote, “The gift was recognized very early in my life. There were marvellous tools at hand: pencils, crayons, coloured pencils, poster paint, etc. Producing art was an extension of myself on some other plane or level — spiritual. Life without this ability or desire is unimaginable. That’s how important making art is for me. Inspiration comes in many ways — the light through a rain forest trail, the shimmer of the setting sun on a lapping ocean, the endless variety of skies. Often, it’s a rush to assemble paints and supplies to depict what has inspired. Another rush comes by applying paint and the ability to recreate. There’s never a moment of not knowing what to create, but rather having so many choices in the filing cabinet of my mind. Many times, two or more subjects will combine in one work, as it’s impossible to stick to one.”


“Mount Thule, Bylot Island” 1930
oil on canvas, 32¼ × 40¼ inches
by Lawren Harris

“It never ceases to amaze me with the intricate beauty, colour, movement and thrill of nature. The endless patterns of flora, the rhythm of the ocean, the wave designs on the sand at low tide, and the vast array of bird and animal life. The sound of wings beating as birds fly overhead, the splash of waterfowl as they gently land on a river, the sound of breezes as they whisper through the foliage, the ‘whoosh’ of wind going through tall grasses, crickets calling out on a warm summer day. It pleases me if I can portray an artwork that lets the viewer ‘hear’ the sounds I love.”

“Life without the beauty of creating art is something I cannot even begin to imagine. It’s a thrill when viewers show me that they like my work. That reward is the ultimate experience. It’s a sharing of my very heart and soul. I feel fortunate in making art and find satisfaction in associating with others doing the same. There’s a kindred spirit in artists and friendships to be made. I even married one, very gladly, as I knew there was a bond that reached beyond the love between a man and a woman — a bonus to share. We relish each other’s ability and successes. I love making art!”


“Clouds, Lake Superior” ca.1923
oil on canvas, 34 x 40 1/4 inches
by Lawren Harris

Best regards,


PS: “We lived in a continuous blaze of enthusiasm. Above all we loved this country and loved exploring and painting it.” (Lawren Harris)

Esoterica: Above all it’s a way of life. A life in art is a way of seeing and being. One floats on a river of joyful challenges. We artists give daily thanks for the miracle of our planet and for the inclination and the capability to honour it. “You may even do foolish things, but you will do them with enthusiasm.” (Colette)

This letter was originally published as “Why do you make art?” on April 2, 2002.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Art is the beginning of vision into the realm of eternal life.” (Lawren Harris)



  1. Because it’s pointless to do anything less- even while doing many other things.
    Because I have to. Because I want to. Because I can.
    Because I’m good at it and have a unique vision.
    Because when I get to the end of my life I want to do so without a regret for not utilizing my talent and skill-set.
    To connect with Universal Consciousness and bring Beauty into the world.
    To heal. To share. To be of service.
    To KNOW god through the use of my own Creativity.
    To BE fully Present and aligned with the Presence of the ONE.
    To be completely in the NOW.

  2. I have been asked this question more than a few times. The first time I stopped, thought about it and responded, “I wish I knew because it takes too much of my time”. If I understood why then maybe I could quit.This response has caused me to reflect many times as to WHY? It seems to come down to this. In the creation of art there is a meditation that occurs and this somehow becomes a time of subtle prayer, or perhaps a blessing from the God I believe in. It quiets my demons, brings me solace and the experience enriches me. Somehow it ties art, music and literature together and helps me see we are not alone.

  3. It’s all well and good to make money with one’s art but truly that is the smallest driver. Irrespective of any other considerations! An artist makes his or her art truly because THEY MUST! Without it their life is meaningless!

    • John,
      I agree. I’m an award winning artist, but the creation and accomplishment far outweighs the monetary reward that may occur.

  4. It’s an addiction. All the rest is rationalization. As Jean Cocteau said, “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.” We only hope our supply of the drug lasts as long as we do, because withdrawal is a bitch.

  5. Compelled to make art from childhood; through a 34-year career as a journalist, who would come home and draw or paint before eating; because no editor will ever fire me (including the ones in my head); because creating art feels like Golden Grace filling heart, mind and soul.

  6. It’s like the author stated, I was born with this gift and using it helps me get by in life. I can’t imagine not being able to create art. I think differently than others do so I must also be a mutant and another form of human evolution. I have evolved to clearly see colors whereas most humans only see shades of grey. And I strive to discover colors that have never been seen, especially in my work.

  7. It’s like an itch, something that has to be scratched. A deep desire that builds the longer I don’t quench that desire. Something in me yearns to create, to imitate God. It’s almost like the need for sex, for release, almost physical and yet the release is something more, “spiritual” doesn’t seem the right word. It’s a personal and intimate connection between me and the energy of the divine creative force, maybe that is spiritual.

  8. I don’t question “Why”.
    I am just so grateful that I Do. I love that art making is my sanctuary.

    Someone once said (no idea who), “a life without art is no life at all”.

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/mary-denning-art-sunrise2_big-wpcf_300x250.jpgSunrise Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

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Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.


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