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Do we really need a reason?

I seem to have a lot of friends (and readers) (and reader friends) who have some difficulty articulating why they need art for art's sake to friends and family (I'm guessing a lot of family).  I can appreciate this - a lot of people (I would go so far as to say most of society) these days seems to have a terribly practical bent, wherein things with no immediately obvious use are dismissed as unimportant.

I get very sad when people apologize for making things that aren't "useful" - what, after all, does "useful" even mean?  I find things that make me happy are very useful indeed, and I have a tendency to surround myself with them all the time.  While I could make the argument that my embroidered frog needle-case is useful, insofar as it holds needles, I never intended to use it as an everyday item - I wanted to make it, for the sheer joy of making it.  I might make another one, I might not; it depends on how I feel.  I certainly don't need two needle-cases (actually, I have about ten at this point - some antique, some new), but why should that stop me?  And I'm not neccessarily going to be "practical" and give the other one away.  It's mine, I made it, maybe I want to keep it.

I think people really need to give themselves permission to create, and to enjoy what they create without having to justify it.  It's just terribly hard to do so when the people around you call it "wasting time" (as in "why are you wasting your time making macrame plant holders when we don't have any plants?  You should be doing something useful with your time!").

Admit it:  Doesn't your stomach just cramp up with irritation reading that?  Isn't it infuriating when someone dismisses your creativity because they can't see any usefulness in it?  I'm here right now to tell you they're wrong. Waste all the time you want, because - surprise! - time spent creating is never wasted.

We are tool-using animals - we evolved to make things with our delightfully manipulable opposable thumbs.  When we spend our days doing everything but creating, I think we go into a kind of emotional deficit, and the lack of "hand time" makes us slowly crazy.  Some of us need to work with our hands more than others, but everyone needs to do it.  Shopping and watching TV, no matter how fun, don't fulfill the same function as building

(I have a theory that the popularity of computer games is due in part to this creative streak - after all, building a high score or solving a puzzle game takes skill, and results in a feeling of accomplishment, much like our macrame plant holder - and gets accused of being a time waster, too.)

The thing is, art has a real purpose - it evokes feelings in us, makes us think in different ways, introduces us to new and challenging concepts, and, on a more personal level, satisfies feelings that cannot be sated any other way. We respond from a very early age to the invitation to create - it's how, as children, we make our first mark on the world (usually on the walls).  When we make something, we're saying "I am here, I exist". 

The trouble we have with people who don't seem to get it is twofold:  The first part is people who have been taught to think that unless something has monetary value, it is worthless - if you can't make a buck off it, why do it?  they ask, and you can't always give them an answer they'll understand, because their value system is so different from yours. 

(This is where the idea of collecting things comes in.  Currently, the "collectible" market is all about what kind of money you can get for the thing you collect, not surrounding yourself with kooky things that make you happy.  In that sense, the three million Hummel figurines your mother's second cousin collects are an "investment".  If lunchboxes weren't actually worth anything - they're not, btw - no-one would be collecting them.)

The glib answer is that by buying supplies, you're keeping the economy going.   The more serious answer is that art isn't about making money, it's about making.  And the ultimate answer is "I make things so I don't kill someone" - art as stress-reliever.

(At least, that's my answer.  It's also less work than burying bodies.)

The second issue is that many people lack the empathy to understand that someone else may find value in something they don't - a gardener who finds a painter ridiculous, or (more often) a self-proclaimed "practical" person who refuses to give credence to the idea that "crafting" (and they always say it so dismissively, don't they?) is anything but a waste of time.

I liken them to the kind of people who smugly tell me that they have "no time for reading", as if that were something to be proud of.

Pity these people.  They will never understand the deeper meaning of the things they see around them, because they never stop to just experience something for its own sake.

Life should be joyful.  The idea that life is a grind, and dull, and should be work-oriented all the time, and that there is some mysterious reward for working yourself to death is stupid.  If you believe in a higher power, think of it this way:  What kind of God would put us on Earth amongst all this great stuff and then tell us not to make full use of it? 

Not one I'm interested in following, I can tell you that. 

One of the greatest things we can do with our short and lovely lives is to make beautiful things, no matter what anyone else says.  If you like cooking, cook.  If you like sewing, sew.  If your heart soars every time you finish a jigsaw puzzle, then do it - no apologies, no excuses.  There need be nothing more than that joy - you don't need to make money to justify it, and don't let yourself be guilted into giving it away for free if you want to keep the things you make.  Give it all away, if that's your bag - or make it into a business if being a business makes you happy.  But, and most importantly, don't let anyone stop you or make you give up what makes you feel good.  Don't ever let anyone else tell you what makes you happy - only you know your heart.

And you need to feed your spirit.  Consider the lilies of the field.  Then roll around in them some, if that makes you feel good.  Paint them.  Dress up in them.  Or turn around and play in the dirt instead.  But doing what makes you happy nourishes an essential part of your soul, and I don't think there's a worthwhile God (or person) out there that doesn't want you to be happy.

The rest of them can go to hell.  Where there is no creativity.


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Feb. 26th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
You know what's funny? My Mum didn't understand what I did until I made that drawnwork jacket. She took one look at it and said, "Oh! I understand now! You're an artist!"

Well, I'm not. I'm a replicator of historical clothing. But I find it interesting that she didn't understand the practical things I was doing. She only "got it" when she could identify it as art.

My father, of course, thought I was wasting my time. But then again, he never had a hobby.
Feb. 26th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
But then again, he never had a hobby

That is so my mother...I keep trying to get her into something but to no avail.

Being artistic isn't a sin...just do it!
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Feb. 26th, 2009 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 26th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
The rest of them can go to hell. Where there is no creativity.

Touche! Wow, there is a lot in this post. I'm working on nurturing my creativity. Until recently I was creative and apologetic for time I spent feeding my soul. No more. That has changed as a result of some recent thinking. My path is a creative one and no explanation or apologies are needed.
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
Art is what makes a house a home. :D
--- Dagonell
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
My dream, as I suspect it is of many of us, would be to be independently wealthy enough so I could spend my days creating whatever it is I want to create. In my case (again, as in many of us reading your very insightful post)it is costuming and needlearts. But I'd love to get back into my calligraphy/illumination/drawing; re-learning my lute. Learning the harp etc.

I feel an almost physical pain when I am in the office "working". I feel stifled and suffocating because I am not being creative. Right now, I am feeling very demotivated in work - I have worked flat out and solidly for the past 3 weeks and am SO tired when I get home that I don't have the energy to work on my gowns. It is frustrating in the extreme and I feel terribly resentful that an entity (my work) dictates my life to such an extent that I don't have time to be creative!

I think a lot of the ills of society are due to people having that creative part of them squashed flat when they become teenagers/young adults. Perhaps thats why a lot of young people feel they simply have to destroy and deface - grafiti is still a form of creativity. Possibly not a nice one and definitely antisocial but it is still creativity.

Perhaps we need to go back to being a society that applauds and encourages and rewards creativity. Think of the amazing craftsmen who built spectacular buildings like the cathedrals and castles and house; made artworks in jewellery, manuscripts and painting. These sorts of creative skills are viewed as being interesting and "oh - how nice" but not viewed as a "proper" job.

Perhaps the world would not be in such a mess economically if there hadn't been such an emphasis on "proper" jobs!!
Feb. 26th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
"It is frustrating in the extreme and I feel terribly resentful that an entity (my work) dictates my life to such an extent that I don't have time to be creative!"

You've hit the nail on the head for me. I suspect this is why so many people try to get into "craft business". It can be a terrible trap though - nothing is worse than when you end up making your art into a thing you hate doing because it is all about making money!
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
What I find particularly appealling is the way that artistic talent and a careful eye can increase the utility of practical projects.

In the world of engineering, we are often trying to solve a problem. More often than not, the answers I see my fellow engineers come up with are successful, but small minded and non-scalable.

The artist in me recoils in horror at these short sighted designs and solutions, as a more elegant, often simpler approach is usually more comprehensible, and at the end of the day, more useful in the long run.

An important aspect of art is the appreciation of the aesthetic, as well as an ability to both appreciate the moment, and the larger picture.

I've seen some gallery displays where they show artist sketches along side masterpieces. It's pretty clear that a small art project can often be a stepping stone to more impressive works. Beautifying a needle holder may just be an interim project on the way to a larger embroidery project, or it may be lateral work.

What I find fascinating is the skills I'm developing in critiquing technically correct, but aesthetically unusable work.

What's more fascinating is the way that engineers fail to respond to the core aesthetic issues that prevent their work from becoming useful.

Feb. 26th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
A Flip Side to the Coin
"...people who smugly tell me that they have "no time for reading", as if that were something to be proud of."

I maintain they have the time. They've got the same twenty-four hours every day that I have. They simply do not prioritize reading into their days.
I suggest they actually *are* proud of their busyness, their too-busy-for-crafts-or-hobbies hustle-bustle.

I gotta say, though, that some of them are remarkably forward about telling me how to use my worthless time and worthless creative ability and negligible skills to make *them* happy, producing for them all those things they think they should have but don't have time to invest in. One wanted a hand-pieced, hand-quilted bed quilt--just for the ask-- er, demanding. One wanted a copy of a coat (adult sized) in one-hundred percent silk velvet with silk charmeuse lining, also "just because [they] want it."
It's actually a long list and I'm not going to hijack your journal to go into it. I've recently touched on it in my own journal.)
Their point seems to be, my creativity is useless and worthless until and unless it's being put at their command.
(If I seem angry about this, I probably am in more ways than I'm aware of, but it's not directed at you or, so far as I know, anyone on LJ, because the people I'm complaining about don't have time for *that,* either.)
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin
I *completely* get your anger, and sympathize in ways too numerous to detail in a comment. :) My family used to be *awful* about this - "you'll use your materials for free because it's your sister".

Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - thatpotteryguy - Feb. 26th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - virginiadear - Feb. 26th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - aeliakirith - Feb. 26th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - mariedeblois - Feb. 26th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - virginiadear - Feb. 27th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - dream_wind - Feb. 28th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: A Flip Side to the Coin - virginiadear - Feb. 28th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
I'm sleepy and under-caffeinated so I just want to offer *HUGS!* and approval :)

This is good.
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
I feel pretty blessed to have a wonderful husband that supports all my many hobbies and endeavors. He may not understand why they make me happy but the simple fact that they do is all that matters.

Our hobbies, reguardless of what they are, are supposed to enrich our lives and bring us joy. They don't have to have any further meaning or purpose. So much of life is already hard enough, our hobbies shouldn't be making it more difficult than it already is.
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
And the ultimate answer is "I make things so I don't kill someone" - art as stress-reliever.

Exactly! I agree totally with this post. I'd go bonkers if I didn't have some sort of project to work on and I have no clue what non-crafters/non-readers/etc. do with their time!

I'm quite lucky- I grew up in a family that was (and still is) very artistic, so even if my parents don't entirely understand why I do the SCA, they very much understand my wanting to be creative and work on things 'cause sometimes they get some of them. ;) Work, however, is a different story- while the staff is pretty varied, many of my coworkers are the preppy/yuppie type who think the highlight of a weekend is going to a cocktail party to stand around and chat about nothing. Except for a couple of other "crafty" people, they chuckle and say 'that's nice' when I mention my hobby (that is, if they don't look at me like I have two heads!). Ah well, I figure it's their loss, as I'm far more happy doing what I do instead of trying to force my square peg into a round hole. :)
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
My Grandfather still doesn't understand why I play in the SCA. When I first starting fencing, he continually asked if I was going to try out for the Olympic team.

He figures a sport is only good if you can get scholarships for it.

Luckily,my mom gets it completely. She was the one who encourages me the most in my SCA and other creative endeavors, even if sometimes those endeavors don't always pan out. ;)
Feb. 26th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
I get "why spend $20 on yarn and all that time to knit yourself a pair of socks when you can buy six pairs in WalMart for $5?"

Because (a) I enjoy it, (b) they fit properly, and (c) they're pretty and usually unique.

I've got to the point where I tend to ignore people who can't understand why I do what I do with my "free" time and discretionary income. Life's too short.
Feb. 26th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
And because d)it feeds the soul to use something that someone else has spent the time and effort to craft BY HAND, rather than produced by the billions on a machine.
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Feb. 26th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
It's almost as bad with writing. I have, since the age of about 10, written for fun-- it used to be a form of play, with my best friend, and even before that I would make up stories with my sisters but not write them down. So I've always written novels. Now I write them by myself. But I still write, all the time, for fun. And nobody who finds this out can resist asking how my hunt for a publisher is going.
Maybe I want to publish them, but that's not really the main point of them, and if I never find a publisher, I've hardly "failed" since my goal was to entertain myself, am I right? But people think I'm just in denial.
And even my boyfriend gets annoyed at all this time I "waste" writing stories for online writing group exchanges-- it's a "waste" when I've written something that I and other people enjoy and read over and over again? Says the man who spent two weeks making a Mac version of Gmail Notifier only to have Google release an official version a month later, whereupon he shrugged and said he'd just done it for the experience.

I was a bit nervous when I took up embroidery that people were going to be asking me when I was going to sell what I made. Fortunately they're more understanding about that one.
Feb. 26th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Y'know, this is funny. It makes me sad. I used to write, poetry, short stories, all that. My family tried to push me to make a career of it. I wanted to be an author, but they said "no, it doesn't work that way---become a journalist." Here I am, 12 years later, 5 years after my Journalism degree, barely writing a word. Their pushing of me to make money off my joy of writing, killed my creativity, and my joy from it.
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Feb. 26th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Ah a Kinetic learning style. It was actually kind of a relief to learn that part about my self. I was in a small intensive class with an oriental professor and about 6 military members. I nalbound all day. Occasionally stopping to write down a character but definitely not taking lots of notes.

When the class was ended the professor stopped to talk with me. She said something to the effect of (remember this is from a culture in which saving face is important) Your fellow students find it very distracting that you don't seem to be paying attention in class. Now I know you must be since you get 92% on the tests but they find it very distracting.

I decided to be diplomatic and not mention that I did absolutely no studying at home and those 92%s were all based on what I "wasn't paying attention" to. (Besides, I knew that if my fellow classmates had been bothered by it, they would have told me. The military being know for bluntness sometimes.)

I have, however, taken that lesson to heart and mentioned to any other teacher (particularly if it is a small class) that I am a kinetic learner. If my hands are still and my eyes following your face I don't hear a thing you are saying. If my fingers are busy doing something repetitive, I can repeat back, word for word, anything you have said in the class that you said more than 5 minutes ago and can answer questions based on the information provided within the last 5 minutes. Some will test me in the beginning but usually quit after a short while. I have found that the strategy of raising my hand to answer every question for the first two weeks usually means they don't call on me for the rest of the class.

The other thing I have found it very useful for is that I seem to be able to learn from a lot of different teaching styles. Some people are visual learners and only learn best from visual teachers, etc. I have only found one or two teachers I couldn't learn from because I supply what I need to learn. I am not dependent on the teacher supplying it. I do try to learn the styles though because if one of my students isn't understanding my teaching I try to switch to whatever style will work for them.

(Please pardon my rambling and grammar. Staying home sick today.)
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Feb. 26th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
The Greeks believed in education for education's sake. They understood in some way that not everything one learned had to have a direct practical application. And yet a lot of practical stuff came out of their theoretical thinking.

The Romans were intensely practical. They wanted everything one learned to HAVE a direct practical application, to be useful. The Romans didn't neglect the arts but they didn't seem to innovate much in that area. Almost everything artistic the Romans did was borrowed, adapted, or outright stolen from someone else (most frequently the Greeks).

The University of Virginia is Greek. Virginia Tech is Roman.

The Romans overcame the Greeks, politicallyl and militarily.

The prevailing attitude in modern society is more Roman than Greek. Many of the institutions we established in the US are inspired by the Romans (such as our civic architecture, and calling our upper house a Senate, and using a fasces as the ceremonial mace in the House of Representatives).

And to that I attribute the attitudes which so many of us encounter about "doing something useful."
Feb. 26th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
I never thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. Even the Roman pantheon is Greek gods with Roman names. I'd have called it a "Puritan" thing rather than a "Roman" thing, but maybe our preoccupation with doing something "useful" goes much further back than the Puritans.
(no subject) - donal_mac_r - Feb. 26th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 26th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
I love this post, especially this:

Life should be joyful. The idea that life is a grind, and dull, and should be work-oriented all the time, and that there is some mysterious reward for working yourself to death is stupid. If you believe in a higher power, think of it this way: What kind of God would put us on Earth amongst all this great stuff and then tell us not to make full use of it?
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