I love to make stuff. Why should I bother making stuff?
April 30, 2016 11:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me make sense of why I continue to make stuff.

So, I've always liked making things. I was a maker before being a maker was a thing. For 50+ years - off and on - I've been making stuff. I went to art school so I could make stuff, and on to grad school to keep making stuff.

I don't do it for money. Not really. I'm a graphic designer, and I do create things for clients, but I almost never consider my work projects to be personal creations. On "the side," when I have creative energy left, I make paintings, mixed media pieces, sculptures and so on. I've built a kayak and an oak stairway.

There was a time when I exhibited in a gallery, sold some work, and made a bit of money. But that time ended, the gallery went under, and I lost interest in that world. But I've kept making stuff. Sold a few things online, but I've never kept at it.

And now in my second half-century I wonder what I'm doing. I get ambitious about new projects, but for the most part I'm just filling up my basement with more things I've made. They rarely see the light of day or get viewed by others. What's the point? I'm somewhat chagrined that my pursuits have never turned into a career, or at least a decent sideline. But at the same time, I'm not big into trying to market work or play the gallery game.

A while back I put on a show on my own. I rented a nice space, catered it, and gave any proceeds to charity - a couple thousand bucks to a good cause. That felt pretty good. So I suppose I could do it again, but I'm not keen on pushing the same batch of folks to pony up more money.

So why bother to keep making these things? Clearly making stuff is part of my mojo, but showing, marketing, selling etc, does not come naturally to me, and I'm not sure I'm even interested.

Befuddled. And what's my question? Just what the heck am I doing? Where can it go?
posted by ecorrocio to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Are you interested in the self-sustainability aspect of making? Could you channel that energy into making clothing, needed household items, or even the supplies that go into making (like spinning your own yarn to knit or weave, weaving fabric to sew, etc)? Look into the slow clothing movement, it's all about making durable, quality things that take a lot longer to make (so you "produce" less).
posted by third word on a random page at 11:38 PM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is a somewhat broader question, but it is similar to one I hear a fair bit from people in the knitting community. They like knitting, they enjoy the process, they enjoy creating things, but they don't need any more sweaters/socks/shawls and neither do any of the people they give gifts to. The drive to create things is pretty strong in a lot of people, so you're not unusual in that regard. And not making a job out of it allows it to stay a pleasure and a choice and a form of self-fulfilment rather than something you have to do for money.

What sorts of uses could you put your art to that wouldn't require you to be in the business of being an artist? If you can build kayaks, could you donate them to summer camps? Could you adapt them to be accessible for disabled users and donate them to specific summer camps? Could your art be donated to charity to be auctioned off? Could you volunteer to teach art to teenagers at a community center and have your making be part of their learning?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:45 PM on April 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

[Quick note: this is edging on chatfilter in terms of thoughts on the general idea of creativity or whatever, so to keep things more concrete it's probably best to focus this as a question about what purposes or uses OP's creative works can be directed toward, especially given the fact that organizing a sales venue isn't something they are interested in pursuing. Thanks all.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:04 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think if you want to reach people and maybe make a bit of money, and don't want to abuse your friendships, it is going to have to involve connecting with some kind of market. (Maybe not the one you're thinking of?)

Can you find someone who might be willing to help you out with the showing, marketing, etc.? There are people with energy who do care about that, and are good at it. You don't necessarily have to be the one to do that work (or *all* of it).

I think getting involved in teaching, if you're inclined to do that and want to, is a great idea, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:26 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Because if you don't make things, every object in your house will be the result of a monetary transaction, and ultimately that's unsatisfying. At least, that's why I make things.
posted by girlgenius at 12:30 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have this same question. The way I currently deal with it is making things for small children as art-toys (they get used until they are reduced to scraps, but they get enjoyed/loved to death) or to replace something of my own daily use with a handmade product. At some point in a few years, all my socks will be hand knit, and all my big spoons will be (very badly) hand made, and I will have a large stack of notebooks and boxes.

Sometimes I will paint a wall and repaint a wall and put art up on it, and six months later, decide it should be gold with blue waves coming down from the top. Treat your house as a gallery that you live in and the art for yourself to live in - William Morris style.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:32 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

You're chagrined that you didn't do a thing you don't like doing and yet you continue to do the things you like, for their own sake? Sounds...pretty healthy to me. I think it's just ok to make things because you find it enjoyable. Who knows, maybe you're the next Van Gogh or Vivian Maier.
posted by bleep at 1:33 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Find a spot to rotate out art on display or make them as gifts. Turn your basement into your own gallery. Then if you want to sell something you've got a gallery room or a good spot to snap a photo of it.

Donate them to a school or other community area that could use some art or happiness! Donate them to a school or other local fundraiser to auction off! (Anything they can get, especially for free to raise money is really helpful for a lot of organizations.)

If you want to change it up a bit, maybe switch to painting on a smaller scale or on paint boards so that it's easier to store, stack, hang, gift, etc.

If you want to switch it up more, then try finding other creative stuff that can be more useful. For example I recently (very recently, like yesterday) got really into finally making shrinky dink jewelry, pins, etc. Tiny little useful things that I can for awesome outfits but it satisfies my drawing and painting and it's super cheap.

Lastly, I agree that if you're not going bankrupt on supplies or storage, then it's fine! Clearly there's some unhappiness otherwise you wouldn't ask. But maybe see if you can do a bit of a cleaning and gift/donate/share some stuff and re-fill that space then periodically do it again.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:18 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Become a bit merciless about getting rid of things you've made that you don't care for. At the same time, move your collection out into the daylight. Let people see them, post images of them online. If someone takes a shine to something, give it to them! Make sure they understand that you're fine with it not being displayed or anything - you're not giving them obligations. People who aren't makers or who are of a different sort (writers, dancers, musicians) can be really enthusiastic about having a little bit of their friend's work in their homes. Artists are overly critical of their own work; you'll probably be surprised at the things people will want.

Do you have family? Your art will be part of your legacy. Not, like, a historically important one or whatever, but when you're gone your family will still have the things you have made, to do with what they will. A couple of the people in my family three and four generations back were semi-successful painters, and we still have some of their pieces. Since I've always been an creative type myself, they were always somewhat inspirational for me, despite having no idea about the personalities of the people who painted them.

I totally understand wanting no part of the art market sausage factory. But if you are free with displaying, donating, and gifting your pieces, you increase your chances of someone taking an interest and their own initiative in working with you. You might not make a profit, but you might be introduced to cool opportunities, like painting murals or helping out a cause that's important to you or sharing your work with young artists as inspiration or other ways to have a creative output that you wouldn't otherwise find if you don't let your work be seen.
posted by Mizu at 2:38 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You make things because...it's something to do, that you enjoy doing more so than watching TV or something. Whenever I got into craft binges, that's pretty much the only reason why I did it.

Give the excess to friends and family as gifts, keep what you like for yourself and don't sweat it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you answered your own question. You make things because you like to make them. There are all kinds of mental and physical benefits to making work.

Now what to do with all the stuff in the basement, that's another problem. I have a basement filled with huge paintings (like 5x7 feet on wood panel, and lots of them) that I've been letting gather dust for years. What was I thinking. They are way too big to fit on my walls on anyone else's. At some point I'll have to do something with them since it seems unlikely the MoMA will come calling. It sucks but at some point I read that 50,000 people a year graduate with an MFA in North America so unless one has serious hussle or contacts or both this basement storage issue is the norm.

The other aspect - not making money from something you are good at and worked hard at, is difficult. I know a very talented aging artist who is incredibly bitter about this and I don't want to be like him. We are lucky to have creative abilities and outlets to deal with the world and our place in it. Like you I work in a related field and it makes me very satisfied and pays the bills. Not bad.

I still make stuff all the time. Here are my strategies for not adding to the pile in the basement.

1. Make smaller work. Easier to store, sell or give away.
2. Make functional work. I took up ceramics.
3. Get a table at local holiday sales. I don't make much money on my art, but I do break even on supplies. I'd still do it even if I didn't though.
4. For me writing, researching, cooking and gardening can scratch a similar itch. They take up less room in the basement.
5. I do a Facebook giveaway offer each year - the first 5 people to comment get sent or given something I've made at some point during the year. I'm happy, they're happy.
6. Art trades. I love this and have awesome work all over my house. If you want to do a trade memail me!
6. Quonsmas
posted by Cuke at 4:49 AM on May 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

Hey, you create. That's cool.

Have you thought about setting up a booth at "Art Fairs" or "Art Walks"?

Another thing to do is to donate them to Goodwill or any other thrift store, then people can pick them up and hang them in their spaces.

Charities are always having dinners and silent auctions and you can donate pieces to be auctioned off, just call the different charities and ask if you can donate pieces.

If nothing else you can deduct the materials and the value of the art from your taxes.

If you enjoy it, and can pass it along for others to enjoy...hey! More power.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2016

Isn't connecting with other people part of the point of art? Isn't it a kind of bat-signal? Isn't that why it makes you sad when your art languishes unseen in your basement?

Websites are easy to make these days. You could pay someone to make one for you. That's a way to reach out beyond your local community. Take some gorgeous photos of your pieces, or pay someone to take them for you. Put some on Flickr and Pinterest. At least they'll get seen, and they'll be out in the world where they want to be.
posted by Grunyon at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you have any volunteer activities? Because if you do, and if you are in any way associated with an organization/non-profit, they almost certainly have a yearly fundraiser and I would bet a dollar that fundraiser includes a silent auction.

So, you can offer a piece or two for the S.A. and that will help clear space, plus you might even get a tax benefit (I'm not an accountant, I'm definitely not your accountant. Ask your accountant.)

So, you get to free up space, help an organization you love, get your work into the world, and maybe, just maaaybe, get some calls after the event from people who lift want to give you money for other things you've made. Maybe.

You can also offer pieces to organizations that you are not affiliated with, but who do good work that you admire.
posted by bilabial at 5:36 AM on May 1, 2016

I like the movement of sending work out into the wild...hang a painting on a fence somewhere with a little sign or note saying it's free for the taking and you hope it inspires them. There are SO many people who need a little piece of beauty or creativity added to their personal space and would be moved to find something like this. Little sculptures in nooks and crannies or hanging on a fence.
posted by raisingsand at 6:05 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Can you organise a swap meet with other people who make things? Maybe you'll end up taking home things that you actually need (e.g. Homemade food items? Clothes? Etc) and other people will fall in love with your art?
posted by lollusc at 6:08 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you should join a local artist's guild or whatever, and with that teeny legitimacy, donate your works to schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, etc., place that could use a little brightness. Start a website, if you haven't got one. (You can post a few works for sale on it, but mostly to show the breadth of what you do, what you're available for, and where your work has been shown/donated.) Take some of your 3D, functional projects like kayaks and stairs, and show them to kids -- lots of districts have "visiting artist" programs where local working artists come talk about their work and show it to kids. Paintings are cool but a handmade boat is EVEN COOLER.

If you're in or near a smaller city, smaller city art guilds often have their own galleries where they show works of guild members, and often deals with local museums (historic houses, etc.) to put local artist stuff in their gift shops. It's not a fancy-ass gallery and doesn't sell as well or as fast, but I have several part-time artist friends who show and sell that way because they don't really produce the volume for a gallery or don't want to deal with the hassle, but it's nice to get enough income to cover their supplies. Local coffee shops and boutique hotels also often are showing local artists' work, with price tags, so that's another option. Again, slow purchasing, but it gets your stuff seen and sometimes bought. Those are all ways to get your stuff seen by appreciative audiences without the hassle of dealing with a gallery, and every now and then someone will buy one.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Donate them. I know creative people that make all sorts of things. Dog blankets for rescues, wwoden toys for Christmas gifts to a shelter, knitted hats for winter clothes drives, art works to yearly auctions, yarn bombing a kids park in need of some tlc etc. Share the blessings. Pass them on to people that will use them. Create it and set it free. Instead of doing solo shows maybe find some other artist to share with.
posted by wwax at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2016

I've found that teaching people (especially VERY young people) to make things fulfills the same need in me as making things.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:17 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine is willing to sell stuff for me so I don't have to do it myself (which I hate doing). Is that an option?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:26 AM on May 1, 2016

Previously, with a focus on knitting, but may still be relevant.

Have you seen Little Free Libraries? If your yard is on a corridor with some foot traffic, consider a Little Free Gallery - an enclosure, possibly lit, where your art can be displayed to passers-by without being exposed to the weather. Rotate your work through, or put a "free to good home" sign on it and swap a new piece in whenever somebody picks one up.

Do you live near a street fair or art market? We have a community arts & crafts market in town that doesn't even charge vendors for booths. It's awesome!

My partner's dad had a phase where he made wooden spoons. When he had about 50, he mailed them to us, and we spent a pleasant evening selling them at the street market. You might also see if a consignment store would take some.

Something to keep in mind: Selling below market rates is easy, but it makes life difficult for those who rely on art/craft for their income. Try not to undercut the next generation of makers!
posted by sibilatorix at 3:13 PM on May 1, 2016

You should take nice pictures of your art and tell the story of each on Instagram. I would follow that! Let me know if you start. Maybe you will find you have more fans than you expect?
posted by rebent at 4:53 PM on May 1, 2016

My grandmother was like you. She did all kinds of crafts, knitted blankets for every baby she could find, designed clothes. Late in life she took up woodcarving.
It's a wonderful trait, to want to make things. I think very likely it's evolutionarily wired into some people's DNA, like "fixing things" and "solving problems." That sort of trait would have made our ancestor very valuable in the community.
We have gotten to a place where we think we should "monetize" everything. But why bother, if you don't need the money and you don't like the selling?
I think you would be a beloved visiting volunteer at a grade school or preschool. (Be aware that they're likely to do background checks and all that-- it can feel a bit annoying when you're trying to help!) Or a Medicaid nursing home. Share the enjoyment of creating something new with people who will be impressed. I wish I could watch you work!
posted by my-sharona at 4:54 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm just shy of 50, and I also make stuff. I do it for the sheer pleasure of learning new things, and exercising my brain. I grew up in a family where my mother and sister were sewers, and by God, I hate sewing with a passion, it's too fiddly for me. And I know how to knit and crochet. But I prefer exploring color and glue and paint and schmugdy things, and maybe some other things, and I no longer let people tell me: you should sell that! I am doing it because it soothes my brain, and if I want to stick Dollar Tree gems onto paper and make them into magnets, well then, I will. And there is no law requiring me to start a mini manufacturing business and sell the stuff!

Years ago, people had hobbies, and it was accepted that they had hobbies that were separate from their day job. Today it's all about selling and marketing. Screw that. I am doing it for ME, for MY soul. I am only on this planet for MY lifetime, and how I choose to spend my free time is for ME. If I want to diddle with some crafty thing and make it, I will, and I won't apologize to anyone, or feel guilty about waste or how I should turn it into a home business, because fuck that shit. It's feeding me and my soul, and my brain. It's my hobby. Everyone should have one.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:01 PM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fighting entropy has intrinsic value for the soul. I don't even believe in souls, and here I am about to lay down an Orson Scott Card quote on you. I don't believe in Orson Scott Card either; he seems like a real dick, but there's a passage from Seventh Son I keep around about making things that resonated with me when I was pretty young, and continues to hold meaning for me, so here you go.

Taleswapper suddenly snaked out his hand and took Alvin by the wrist. Alvin was so surprised he dropped what he was holding. "No! Pick it up! Look what you were doing!"

"I was just fiddling, for pete's sake."

Taleswapper reached down and picked up what Alvin had dropped. It was a tiny basket, not an inch across, made from autumn grasses. "You made this, just now."

"I reckon so," said Alvin.

"Why did you make it?"

"Just made it."

"You weren't even thinking about it?"

"It ain't much of a basket, you know. I used to make them for Cally. He called them bug baskets when he was little. They just fall apart pretty soon."

"You saw a vision of nothing, and then you had to make something."

Alvin looked at the basket. "Reckon so."

"Do you always do that?"

Alvin thought back to the other times he'd seen the shivering air. "I'm always making things," he said. "Don't mean much."

"But you don't feel right again until you've made something. After you see the vision of nothing, you aren't at all at peace until you put something together."

"Maybe I've just got to work it off."

"Not just work, though, is it, lad? Chopping wood doesn't do the job for you. Gathering eggs, toting water, cutting hay, that doesn't ease you."

Now Alvin began to see the pattern Taleswapper had found. It was true, near as he could remember. He'd wake up after such a dream at night, and couldn't stop fidgeting until he'd done some weaving or built a haystack or done up a doll out of corn shucks for one of the nieces. Same thing when the vision came on him in the day -- he wasn't no good at whatever chore he was doing, until he built something that hadn't been there before, even if it was nothing more than a pile of rocks or part of a stone wall."

"It's true, isn't it? You do that every time, don't you?"


"Then let me tell you the name of the nothing. It's the Unmaker."

"Never heard of it," said Alvin.

"Neither did I, till now. That's because it likes to keep itself secret. It's the enemy of everything that exists. All it wants is to break everything into pieces, and break those pieces into pieces, until there's nothing left at all."

"If you break something into pieces, and break the pieces into pieces, you don't get nothing," said Alvin. "You just get lots of little pieces."

"Shut up and listen to the story," said Taleswapper.

Alvin was used to him saying that. Taleswapper said it to Alvin Junior more often than to anybody else, even the nephews.

"I'm not talking about good and evil," said Taleswapper. "Even the devil himself can't afford to break everything down, can he, or he'd cease to be, just like everything else. The most evil creatures don't desire the destruction of everything -- they only desire to exploit it for themselves.

Alvin had never heard the word exploit before, but it sounded nasty.

"So in the great war between the Unmaker and everything else, God and the devil should be on the same side. But the devil, he doesn't know it, and so he serves the Unmaker as often as not."

"You mean the devil's out to break himself?"

"My story isn't about the devil," said Taleswapper. He was steady as rain when a story was coming out of him. "In the great war against the Unmaker of your vision, all the men and women of the world should be allies. But the great enemy remains invisible, so no one guesses that they unwittingly serve him. They don't realize that war is the Unmaker's ally, because it tears down everything it touches. They don't understand that fire, murder, crime, cupidity, and concupiscence break apart the fragile bonds that make human beings into nations, cities, families, friends, and souls."

"You must be a prophet right enough," said Alvin Junior, "cause I can't understand a thing you said."

"A prophet," murmured Taleswapper, "but it was your eyes that saw. Now I know the agony of Aaron: to speak the words of truth, yet never have the vision for himself."

"You're making a big lot out of my nightmares."

Taleswapper was silent, sitting on the ground, his elbows on his knees, his chin propped all dismal on his palms. Alvin tried to figure out what the man was talking about. It was a sure thing that what he saw in his dreams wasn't a thing of any kind, so it must be poetical to talk about the Unmaker like a person. Maybe it was true though, maybe the Unmaker wasn't just something he imagined up in his brain, maybe it was real, and Al Junior was the only person who could see it. Maybe the whole world was in terrible danger, and it was Alvin's job to fight it off, to beat it back, to keep the thing at bay. It was sure enough that when the dream was on him, Alvin couldn't bear it, wanted to drive it away. But he never could figure out how.

"Sposing I believe you," said Alvin. "Sposing there's such a thing as the Unmaker. There ain't a blame thing I can do."

A slow smile crept over Taleswapper's face. He tipped himself to one side, to free up his hand, which slowly reached down to the ground and picked up the little bug basket where it lay in the grass. "Does that look like a blamed thing?"

"That's just a bunch of grass."

"It was a bunch of grass," said Taleswapper. "And if you tore it up it'd be a bunch of grass again. But now, right now, it's something more than that."

"A little bug basket is all."

"Something that you made."

"Well, it's a sure thing grass don't grow that way."

"And when you made it, you beat back the Unmaker."

"Not by much," said Alvin.

"No," said Taleswapper. "But by the making of one bug basket. By that much, you beat him back."

posted by deludingmyself at 8:07 PM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Deludingmyself's' comment above wins, and the quote I am about to leave doesn't come close. But the quote that sometimes comes to me when I make things was from a song by the YouTube/viral video person Leslie Hall: "when you're making crafts, you're spicing up the world."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:14 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

If making things brings you happiness, why does it matter it your basement is filled with them? I can think of a lot worse things to fill a basement up with. If you want to take photos of things and maybe sell or give them away, that's fine. But being surrounded by external manifestations of your creativity and joy is not a bad way to live.
posted by ananci at 2:09 PM on May 2, 2016

Late to the game but I share your position. I've been asking what I want to get out of making, beyond experiencing the process and having the thing at the end. Like you I want an audience, but there's also a social part of me that would like to be part of a group of likeminded people to share pieces and knowledge. Getting art into the hands of someone who really appreciates it feels so good! Anyone for an art/craft swap club?
posted by mrcrow at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2016

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