Artists seem to the rest of the world a bunch of reclusive people who for the most part live in ‘solitary confinement’ chasing their creative muse. The question I want to explore here is why do these folks create at all?
Recently I read about an artist called Marlene Dumas. (I’m challenging myself to read about a different artist every day, more about that later). Marlene is a South-African born artist who lives in the Netherlands. In 2008, she became the highest-selling living female artist. The piece of artwork that brought her this fame, “The Visitor” was sold by Sotheby’s for £3 million. Yet I’d never heard of her till I decided to go find a new artist to learn about.
The thing I found interesting about an interview she gave was this. In that interview Marlene responded to a question about whether her high sales prices were a validation of her work by saying, “Yes, and it’s unfair when people say the political paintings can’t be taken seriously when they go for so much money.”
This is not the first artist I’ve heard say the sale of their art is a validation of their work. What is interesting to me is that some of the artists who express this thought are very talented and may even be widely celebrated too.
In the interview, I noticed that Marlene (not unlike many artists) expressed humility at her talents and even uncertainty on occasion, as to whether she can create another masterpiece. I see many artists who are hesitant (some downright adamant) about showing their work to the public. So what is it that makes all these artists continue to create work?
As you might know from the expression “starving artist”, it certainly can’t be for the profit. Most artists don’t make a profit on their work. Rather, they give up their daily necessities to buy supplies to create art. Even some very celebrated artists make a loss. Last year, I read about a case where the IRS attempted to classify the work of a well-known, well-celebrated artist as a hobby since she was not making profit from her art.
We cannot then say artists create for profit. Can we? So it must be something else!
Marlene, said, ‘In South Africa, you weren’t proud to be an artist: it felt egocentric. I was a bit ashamed’. I know Marlene’s sentiments are shared by many artists, not only in South Africa but all around the world. With society painting a picture of a reclusive artist starving to make ends meet, what ‘loving” parent would wish this life on their child.
People who end up taking this path anyways, either rebelled against their parents’ wishes or have parents who believed their children will end up being one of the few-and-far in-between celebrated artists or they chose this path at a later age in their life.
It cannot be for ego either. So it must be something else!
What about approval?
Each time an artist shows their work; they or their work is subject to critiquing. Art is very subjective. Sometimes people’s critique of your work can be crashing. So each time an artist shows their work, they open themselves up for rejection.
How can we then say, this is an incentive for creating art? So it must be something else!
We can go through an entire list of the reasons why artist supposedly create and we’ll see that they are not compelling enough to make a person put themselves or their work out there.
What I believe is that artists create primarily because it is who they are. They are creative people by nature and they cannot help themselves but create. Creating gives them personal satisfaction, first and foremost. All the others are added benefits if at all they get those benefits.
So next time you purchase a piece of artwork or attend an art show or compliment an artist, know that you’ve encouraged that artist, you validated their hard work, you helped them believe one more time in being who they truly are- artists.
Thanks for reading. Share your thoughts. What do you think is the compelling reason why artists create?