Art for Your Sake
You probably have heard of a phrase that goes like this: “Art for art’s sake”. It comes from a 19th-century French slogan namely “L’art pour l’art”. This phrase is perpetuating that art or “true art” has meaning simply by existing. The idea behind this phrase sounds very appealing, it takes some worries away and can give you purpose with what you are doing. But is it really true? Is the creation of an artwork reason enough for its existence? Does art really have an intrinsic value attached to it?
I personally disagree with the “art for art’s sake” belief and find this kind of thinking potentially harmful to yourself and others. I will tell you why I do so, and how I find purpose with my own artwork every day. Keep in mind that my point is not that art has no value, but simply that we(both artist and the audience) have to give art it’s value.
Art Needs to be Seen
Alright, I will use a famous experiment to explain my view on this matter. You have most likely heard of Schrodinger's cat, the one that is both dead and alive, as long as you don’t look inside the box he is in. So replace the cat with art, does that piece of art really exists if no one is looking inside the box it is in? Does it really matter by itself? I say no, art by itself existing or not, doesn’t really change anything. I say that art might as well not be around if there is no one to appreciate, feel it, share it and enjoy it.
Of course, you could argue that everything around us is some form of art, I don’t disagree, there is beauty everywhere. My point is focused on the art we humans produce. We are social creatures, we share with each other all the time. That might as well be one of the most defining traits of being human. I believe art is directly connected with that nature.
What Drives You to Make Art?
To be an artist is about giving yourself into your own desires and ideas and then paint them, sculpt them, film them, photograph them, write them. You get my point, it is a medium to express yourself. But why do it? Where do you find the meaning for your own art? There are countless ways to express yourself, why make a picture? It needs to have a goal. For you as an artist to feel purpose and fulfillment with what you create, to truly feel it, your work has to be seen for a reason. Even if that reason or meaning behind the artwork is only perceived by you.
Many times I have painted portraits, done figure drawings and illustrations trying to capture real life or an idea I had. When I was done with it, there was no sense fulfillment, the art was just there not doing anything to me or anyone. There was enjoyment and challenge while I was creating it, that’s what drove me to work on it, but there wasn’t much fulfillment with the end product. Have you felt the same way? I bet you have.
These countless paintings, sketches and so on are useful to make your skill go up. You become better technically. But at some point, these techniques need to be applied with a reason behind them. Otherwise, there is little for you as an artist to hold on to, to motivate yourself and to believe in what you are doing every day.
How to Find Your Purpose
I will share with you how I find purpose with my own work, either if it is personal or professional work.
I know in practice this is easier said than done, but hopefully by sharing what I do I can help you look in the right direction.
Let’s think about it this way. You have a fire, a passion inside of you that gives yourself the drive to keep working on your art. How do you get that fire started again after it dies out? You have to realize that your artwork is the kindling. That fire doesn’t really start if you don’t fuel it with meaning.
Here are some questions I ask myself to find meaning in my work:
Would I rather be doing something else?
Does this idea/sketch/story resonate with me?
Will this make me improve my craft?
What will this work achieve? Does it have a story or meaning I want people to feel or understand?
If I saw this work hanging in a wall or in a digital gallery, what would I think of it?
If it is a job and you have to deliver, but you don’t feel motivated by it. Ask yourself this question. Does this push me forward as an artist and/or person?
These are the question I ask myself most often when I start working. You should also add on to this list other questions you deem important as well. The more personal the questions the better!
The important point of asking these questions to yourself is to get you to look deeper at yourself. it is for you to try and dig out the reasons why you started painting in the first place. Why did you pick up a pencil for the first time? That is a great question to ask yourself as well.
I really hope these questions and ideas can help you get into the right mindset to really ignite your creativity and motivation!