Why We Create Art

That question has been running through my head the past day or so. You can google “why we create art” and get responses in varying degrees of inanity and less than helpful lists. Fundamentally though, creating art is not Darwinistic and it does not pay. Yet it feels much more vital than a hobby, which is what the hierarchy of life would reduce it to.

People create for many reasons, and often when discussing it they say they enjoy the process or they want to express themselves. But I think expression implies two parties. We create for other people to read or see or hear. Even while I say I write for myself because I enjoy it, there’s more. I write with the purpose of communicating. Even in personal journal entries, I explain situations as if I didn’t know what happened in my own life. Maybe that’s just me. To some degree, if I can finish my novel satisfactorily and no one ever reads it I will be proud of my efforts. Yet I want people to read it and I wrote with the implicit goal that if a person read it, he/she would understand the story I am telling.

So yes, we create for ourselves. Yet somehow the expression isn’t complete if there is no one on the other side to see it or hear it or read it and recognize it’s existence. It becomes “like dead letters sent to him who live, alas, away.” If a tree falls in a forest with no one there to hear it, it doesn’t matter if it makes a sound.

6 thoughts on “Why We Create Art

  1. re: creating art is not Darwinistic. Humm… I wonder. To me, the human species seems to take, in part, definition from its tendency toward embellishment, imaginings and representation beyond language. I’m not sure we know enough to suppose that the art tendency is not something that the species could eliminate and remain successful. On one level it (art) operates as a communication between the artist and environment and is probably a major force in developing higher cognitive abilities. Of course having our tree falling noises heard in an era of high noise to signal ratios may leave an individual artist a bit unsatisfied.

  2. Or perhaps we do it because, slow/awkward/difficult/annoying/etc though it may be to write – it’s more satisfying than the alternative, which is not writing.
    I haven’t come up with a better theory yet myself. When I’m showered with cash and critical acclaim that may change.

  3. Huh, I said not Darwinistic in the sense of not immediately helpful with survival, but I like the idea that it could be necessary for civilization.

    I agree more satisfying than the alternative, but I’m not sure why…

  4. I am totally with you on this. Although I truly enjoy the solitude that comes when I am making art, it is the energy that I received in sharing it and showing it that completes the process for me.

  5. I think it’s hard to look at this issue without considering critical consumption. I mean, what about when your novel comes out and it’s reviewed? Hypothetically, would you get more enjoyment out of creating it, not sharing it and keeping it to yourself, or sharing it and having it torn to shreds by book reviewers? I always think back to this interview with Kurt Vonnegut on NPR when he talked about the importance of creative expression. He said it “grows your soul.” He said you can’t worry about critics. You just have to dance, paint, sing because it grows your soul. Either way, good luck with your novel. I for one can’t wait to read it.

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