For her university thesis, Laurie Seskey asks us this question: “Why do you make art?” I included it in the previous clickback and some responses have already come in.
I knew we were onto something when Shirley Harding wrote, “The gift was recognized very early in my life. There were marvelous tools at hand: pencils, crayons, colored 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. It never ceases to amaze me with the intricate beauty, color, 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!”
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 honor it. “You may even do foolish things, but you will do them with enthusiasm.” (Colette)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Why do we make art?
(RG note) Here are more answers to the above question. Laurie tells me she is going to take a while to assemble all of the material that has come in. I’ve asked her to send us a more complete collection so that we might publish them here. Thanks for your remarkable insights.
Gifts to be used
by Sherry Purvis
For love of life, passion, challenge, and to escape. Reality is a hard pill to swallow. Through my art, I escape to a much better place. All of the passion I feel about life and living are so tied up in these things I produce. The gifts we are given are there to be used and expanded upon.
by Jim Rowe
Being an artist is an escape. It is a controlling addiction. It gives me pleasure as I do it, and a sharp withdrawal, usually in the form of uncontrollable rage, if I go a day without my art fix. But compared to other addictions, painting is probably one of the better ones. And being human we have the power to dominate some addictions and make them work for us.
by Bev Willis, Fresno, Calif, USA
It’s kind of like breathing. I breathe in all the beauty, the rhythm, the smell, the line, the colors, shapes and on and on and I must breathe out again. Let’s make another comparison, when I like doing something such as sewing or singing or swimming or walking or I have read something that I think is wonderful, I want to share these things with others so that they can enjoy them too. Perhaps they will not be interested, but at least I have done my part. I just can’t keep it all for myself. There is so much there that I could not possibly keep it all to myself. But of course part of the enjoyment of art is the sharing and the enjoyment you see that other people get from it too.
by Michelle Grant, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I make art because I NEED TO! It is something deep inside my soul. When I am consistently working I feel calmer, happier and at ease with my life. Making art for me is not a ‘want’ but a ‘need.’
by Beryl Bainbridge
It’s my belief that everyone is an artist of some kind; for each makes some kind of ‘art’ out of the way in which he/she lives his/her life. It’s a compulsion, a drive and a basic need, as aggressive as the need for love. And like love, it’s a compulsion to both give, and receive. It is never absent from my life, in sickness and in health.
by Sarah Sibley, Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, UK
I’m often lonely and have no relatives that are artists or know any artists that get the art thing, but it is a small price to pay when you suddenly have that inspiration to create, create, create. As Alfre Woodard once said, “I didn’t discover I was an artist until I was 17… It was very hard to be an artist and a child… it was like having sand up your butt when you go to the beach.”
Wonder vs. analysis
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, Texas, USA
Regarding the “wonder vs. analysis” question, I need them both. I need wonder to get inspired to paint, to find subject matter — or let it find me — and to simply be able to see through my artist’s eyes. I need analysis so I’ll know where my artwork is weak and what to do to fix it. Analysis makes it possible for me to do my work objectively. Both wonder and analysis are necessary. Just not at the same time.
by Pam Thurston, Pigeon Lake, Alberta, Canada
Perhaps because I have been suffering from Erica Jong‘s “great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul” for too long! Perhaps because I have found my voice. I believe that all those artists who say they create simply because they are inspired by nature’s beauty and want to honour it are either not being honest or have it too easy! I, too, paint from nature and it is from nature I find inspiration but it is not nature that I paint. It is much more personal than that. I paint because I must. I paint because painting teaches me and because it allows me to touch others. I paint to leave a mark. I paint because it is truly mine. I don’t believe nature needs any help in expressing itself… it is my connection with it and with life itself that I express. It is my sometimes tortured, sometimes gleeful pushing of paint that says, “This is how I see it.” The Dalai Lama has written that “the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness… the motion of our life is towards happiness.” Because personal expression and personal freedom have always been important to me, when I am painting, I am happy.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Paula Timpson who says, “Life is Art. As a Poetess, I see life through nature.”
To look to make
by Keith O’Connor
to look into a great dream
to move your eye over the surface
to feel form
to feel colour
to feel sensitivity
to dive into sensitive soil
of form colour and mood
to take root
to become maker
to become self
Making art with what we have left
by Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle, contributed by Ann Templeton
Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.
To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an unforgettable sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.
By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play. But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap — it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do. People who were there that night thought to themselves, “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage — to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.”
But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity, as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.
When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.
He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the way of life — not just for artists but for all of us. So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.