Why Do You…(Insert Creative Verb Here)?

This is probably the most asked question of creative people–sometimes even by other creative people. And it’s one of the more irritating ones, because it’s such a hard thing to quantify. It’s like asking someone why their eyes are blue, or why they were born in the morning. How do you answer that? So, understandably, the answers to why someone’s creative vary wildly depending on the person. You’ll hear things like,

“I’m not sure, I just do.”

“Because it makes me happy.”

“Because it’s therapy for me; it helps me express myself.”

And my personal favorite, “I do it for me.”

Now the truth is, all of these answers are sugar-coated, watered-down replies meant to make the artist look more artsy; to make the listener think, “ooo, aren’t they cool? They’re so mysterious and vague.” Personal satisfaction is great, but you go to the gym for personal satisfaction, you don’t pour weeks, months, years, heart and soul into a project just for personal satisfaction. I mean, don’t answers like that just seem so full of themselves? Why narcissism is encouraged within the arts is beyond me, but the more self-involved the answer, the more prestige points an artist receives. And the more frequently you’ll hear responses like the above.

Personally, I view every one of those answers as a cop out. Because ultimately, statements like that are rarely true. And before you get up on your high horse and scream “controversy!” while flooding my comment box with all the reasons I’m wrong, hear me out. If creativity is such a personal thing (which I’m actually not arguing, because it is), why would anyone share its products? All those artists, authors, and musicians that claim they only create for themselves are lying. The proof is in the sheer fact that they made said creation available for public consumption. If it was truly just for them, it would be stashed in a vault somewhere, guarded by large, vicious dogs and fiercely protected until it’s location was lost in the afterlife. Not put on public display for all to judge. But that’s not the case, is it? Because these artists shared their work with the world.

(The only exception may be personal diaries and journals, which are never truly intended to be shared, but in reality, are almost always found and read anyway.)

When I’m asked this question of why I (insert creative verb here), I have a generalized, self-important, prosaic answer that I’ll give. (Who doesn’t want to earn some prestige points?) I simply say that the reason I (chosen creative verb of the moment) is that I never realized not (doing said creative verb) was an option. And this is partly true. Creativity just came naturally. Like breathing. But just like the answers I listed above, that lovely little sound bite, while somewhat accurate, is not the real motivator behind my masterpieces. (See? Don’t I just automatically sound more brilliant because I called them that?)

The brutal, honest truth is something none of us “Artistes” like to admit, because it makes us seem desperate and needy, and those two adjectives are a far cry from cool and mysterious. We don’t want to be put in the same category as your psycho ex that Facebook stalks you. But the reason all those artists, authors, and musicians are trying to hide from, is we create because we want validation. Public approval. Fame, Glory and all that jazz. Just like when we were little kids and we ran to Mommy looking for approval on our latest blob of mismatched crayon wax with no anatomy whatsoever that we were certain looked like the cat, waiting for the glowing ooze of motherly love to pour over us, we offer up the fruits of our labor to the public eye. With the sole intent of being lavished in praise about our awesomeness.

When you think about it, it’s not really that hard to see why this is the real motivator behind creativity. It’s the same reason that we post status updates several times a day and then check back obsessively, waiting for those little thumbs up signs to appear that means someone likes us, someone agreed. We’re cool. It’s human nature to seek praise from those around us; it makes us feel good, worthwhile, valued. Does that mean all artists are shallow, attention-seeking ho-bags? No. Do we all secretly want to preen while you sing our praises and tell us how awesome we are, so we can humbly pretend we didn’t already know that? You betcha.

Ultimately, though, it’s about receiving feedback of any kind, (although preferably of the worship-my-brilliance variety) that motivates us to hit that upload button, to submit that manuscript, or to step out on that stage. It’s often said that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And I 100% agree. Without that input from others, your creative side will shrivel and die like a thirsty plant locked in a closet. Which is why, whenever someone answers with the angelically selfish response of , “I (whatever) for me,” I find myself annoyed. Why is it ok to feed your narcissitic ego by pretending that success means nothing to you because you don’t care what anyone else thinks, but not ok to admit the truth? You did it for the same reason I do–to feel good when others tell you your creation is something wonderful.

And for those out there that feel this question is a perfectly legitimate conversation starter, it’s really not. You’re just going to be lied to. Few of us will man up and admit, “I did it to be rich and famous, duh.” You’re much better off asking questions that actually have quantifiable answers. Things that ask why we do things a certain way, or what did we mean with X, instead of something as innocuous as why do you create?

Hey, nobody said honesty always had to be pretty. And I did warn you that snarky rants were a definite possibility. But let the barrage of offended comments commence anyway. 😉

3 thoughts on “Why Do You…(Insert Creative Verb Here)?

  1. I don’t think this post is snarky in the slightest. I do think that artistic inclinations can certainly have a compulsive element to them. You are driven to paint, photograph or write. You have a thing for color, space, composition or words. But you have to have an audience. Really is hard to produce without an audience. Not that you can’t , it just seems pointless not to have viewers or readers. I remember when I first decided I liked my photographs printed. I kept taking more and trying to hone my skills, spending the wee hours learning Photoshop and adjusting things to my liking. But, then what? A photograph is worth nothing if not looked at…a story nothing if not read….a poem nothing if its emotion is not shared with another…So at the end of the day the act of creation is nice, but validation is what makes it work. Am I crazy to like this or will other people appreciate the images or stories? While some art is not appreciated in its own time……people generally want and need the validation in their own time. Its a sanity thing!!

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