how to write and make art in these mad mad mad mad mad times
August 10, 2020 12:37 PM   Subscribe

What motivates you to write or make art?

I really enjoy both these activities, but find it harder and harder to justify a reason for spending time on them when I have the idea in my head (wherever it originated) that they have no "value" if not done for a.) moneymaking purposes or b.) to share with others. In my own assessment, I find art and writing neither sells nor receives much interest from anyone if it is not presented at a professional level, which is not where I am. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean I want to stop writing or making art. It just means I feel like there's no point to my doing so, and without going to school again, I don't know how I'd improve my skills, and something about the pandemic has made it harder, not easier, to try and do so on my own. I've seen discussions here where people talk about enjoying these activities just for the sake of enjoying them, without worrying about whether they pay for themselves or what anyone else thinks. How do you do it? What motivates you to create something? What joy and satisfaction do you derive from it?

posted by Crystal Fox to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I actually spent an entire issue of my newsletter talking about this, back in the early days of Covid Times. The bottom line is that "I really enjoy both these activities" is justification enough in brutally hard times where it's a crucial self-care strategy to be nice to yourself by finding time to do things you enjoy. Doesn't matter if there's money or if anyone else sees. What matters is the moments of enjoyment and pace while you work.
posted by COBRA! at 12:46 PM on August 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I write songs, produce them into finished tracks, and write fiction. Every piece of these endeavors feels like a totally different, almost un-related activity to me. The songwriting part itself? 100% flow, pure release. Music production? It's like solving sound puzzles, with a bit of flow mixed in. Recording the parts for each track? That's more flow, plus the physical act of playing the instruments feels amazing. Writing fiction is...weird. It's almost wholly unpleasant and feels like a hostile takeover of my brain while it's happening, but somehow when I've done it for an hour or so, I feel like "a new man" (even though I'm a lady).

So I guess if I had to distill it, I would say that each individual part of making any art brings with it its own mental states and challenges, and the positive emotions/results I derive from each bit are qualitatively different from each other.
posted by nosila at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

For me, what motivates me to create art is having an artistic community around me. Even if I'm not directly sharing what I create, we can still discuss what we're working on and learn from each other. I've recently gotten back into playing music, and community is what motivated me to do that. My friend and I started "a band" which is really just a vehicle for us to get together once a week and practice together. We're beginners with our instruments so we're far from being able to perform (though we'd both love to do that eventually) but that doesn't really matter -- right now it's just about making music together rather than trying to do it alone and isolated.

Obviously, anything that involves getting together with other people is much more complicated during a pandemic, I realize that.
posted by mekily at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

That's a really good question. I had/have (occasionally) the same hurdle to get over. I guess what helped most was making things that weren't meant to last, like chalk drawings on sidewalks, or pictures made out of rocks that were laying around on the ground, or drawing on the paper that came out of packages you get in the mail, the stuff that comes all crumpled up in a ball. I wasn't worried about making something for anyone to keep so I just got used to the process of making for making's sake. I also enjoy posting things on my Instagram account. Sometimes people like them and comment, sometimes they don't but I'm not as concerned about that as I am about having a visual reccord for myself that I made these unpermenent things. I remember how much pleasure I got from just creating things.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:53 PM on August 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I write with the hope that one day, when I die, my children will find my writings and appreciate them. Maybe learn from them. If they want to pass them on to others, that is their choice. I guess I am really writing for myself. As for improving, I would like to think that the more I write, the better I get at it, but that could be wishful thinking. I also think that as I age, I write better and more succinctly. Maturity?
posted by AugustWest at 1:06 PM on August 10, 2020

IDK, this might help - (warning: FB Event link) - Fuck Productivity: Unlearning Internalized Capitalism
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I write the things that I want to read myself, because nobody's writing is hitting my sweet spot quite like I can. I thought that was sort of what everyone did.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:11 PM on August 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

As I thought more about this, the most succinct and generic answer I can think of to this question that's a) actually real and b) probably applies to most people is that the flow state is beneficial and wonderful. Here's the Wikipedia article. Cognitive scientists call it (or something like it) "effortless attention."

It feels great and might make you a better, smarter, happier, more well-adjusted person. That seems valuable to me.
posted by nosila at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

“The act of making music, clothes, art, or even food has a very different, and possibly more beneficial effect on us than simply consuming those things. And yet for a very long time, the attitude of the state toward teaching and funding the arts has been in direct opposition to fostering creativity among the general population. It can often seem that those in power don’t want us to enjoy making things for ourselves—they’d prefer to establish a cultural hierarchy that devalues our amateur efforts and encourages consumption rather than creation. This might sound like I believe there is some vast conspiracy at work, which I don’t, but the situation we find ourselves in is effectively the same as if there were one. The way we are taught about music, and the way it’s socially and economically positioned, affect whether it’s integrated (or not) into our lives, and even what kind of music might come into existence in the future. Capitalism tends toward the creation of passive consumers, and in many ways this tendency is counterproductive.” - David Byrne, How Music Works

I get motivated by reminding myself that we are constantly told (as you note) that the act of creation is only of value if it can be sold and that this is hugely detrimental to our mental states and well-being. When I create art, no matter how "good" it is, it is a small act of resistance.

I also make sure to seek out "Folk Art" and "Outsider Art" on various platforms/museum collections because that art can be so incredible and powerful despite the artists often having no formal training. That keeps me motivated, too.
posted by thebots at 1:12 PM on August 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

I write to share with others. I've formally studied writing, I've taken workshops, and I'm in a writing group. I've published a bit. I've made laughable amounts of money, and I'm not ruling out trying to make more money at some point. Writing is something I think of myself as "serious" about.

However, I also play piano. I'm maybe at the level of a serious fourth grader. I may eventually want to take lessons again, but I have no plans to make money from it. I might have some interest in playing for family at some point, but that's it. For me, I play piano for a few reasons. The first is that I think it's fun. Second, it seems to reduce my stress somewhat. And third, after years of not playing, I've been practicing for fifteen minutes a day since March, and I like the feeling that I'm getting better at it.

When I was writing my Master's thesis, I was doing the best piano playing of my life because piano was my break from writing.

The problem with art is we tend to think of it as Art. Maybe think of it like playing a sport or running. It can just be something you do because you like to do it.
posted by FencingGal at 1:21 PM on August 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

It's the only way to achieve immortality, though it's far from foolproof. Still worth a shot, though!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:28 PM on August 10, 2020

The 'art' that I create is writing, and I do it to escape from shitty reality. That is my main motivation. When life sucks my creativity goes way, way up. I feel that's problematic (is what I consider creativity actually a weird coping mechanism?) - but I can live with that. I'm happy to be a very productive creator, even though I do not share my writing with other people.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:02 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Self-care! This spring I took a break from Serious Writing and started writing a novel-length fanfiction. It's escapist and cozy and pushes all my emotional buttons, and writing it just makes me happy.

And I always learn things about myself by making art - it's therapeutic on multiple levels.

(Writing is also the best way to become a better writer, but if you set out with self-improvement as your only goal, you usually trip over yourself.)
posted by toastedcheese at 4:39 PM on August 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Motivation is funny thing. Wanting to create something, and getting around to actually doing it are kinda different things. I have an infinite list of divine concepts to dream of, and I only execute a fraction of them, with a long art-to-do list, only impeded by "laziness, emotional torpor induced by weather, household strife, illness, annoying meetings with public officials, etc".

Actually getting around to creating something unique is just something that we have to do when there's no alternative left to not making it.
posted by ovvl at 5:17 PM on August 10, 2020

For me, it works to take a class (online, these days). Having deadlines, accountability, and a group of fellow artists really helps a lot.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:49 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The fact that I have time to do things because I don't commute anymore and don't have to perform busy-ness at my job while working from home.
posted by less of course at 8:07 PM on August 10, 2020

Writing does not cause misery, it is born of misery.

The 'art' that I create is writing, and I do it to escape from shitty reality. That is my main motivation.

In my own writing, I find a degree of desperation, of a good and just world that simply doesn't exist in reality. My characters are good and kind and they triumph because of their virtues. I know that the world would not treat them as harshly as I do, but dammit! I want virtue to be rewarded and goodness acknowledged.
posted by SPrintF at 8:18 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

For visual arts you might think about art journaling, as the very purpose is creating a personal book of art that is not meant to be sold. There are groups online where you can share your work if you like, but ultimately the enjoyment is in the creating.

I always find it hard to get started on an artwork, but once I get going I start to get lost in the process for periods of time, which is a nice mental break from the stressful crap I am usually ruminating on. I often do baby steps to get myself started. Like:

Clear and clean a space to work
Find a canvas or art journal to work on
Try to come up with an idea (this part is usually hard, I'm not the sort of person that generally has tons of ideas just milling around in my head)
Find a reference photo, if needed
Watch a video on a technique I know is going to give me trouble
Pick out some colors
Start the sketch

I will take my time between the steps above, sometimes a lot of time. This is one reason I don't worry about selling, because my anxiety and procrastination makes me the least prolific artist I know. If I tried to paint for money I'd probably starve. The other thing about trying to take a hobby to the professional level is that, how much am I going to love it once it becomes my job to paint? The idea of sweating bullets trying to get the stupid eyes right under a deadline makes me think that's the artist equivalent of struggling to get the stupid report to come out right that makes me hate my current job.

So I just paint for the fun of the process (once I get into it) and because it is still thrilling to me to see my skills improve and wind up with a piece of art I actually like. I show my works off on social media like a four-year-old so my friends and family can politely or sincerely like or ignore them, and then I hang them on my wall for as long as I enjoy looking at them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:48 PM on August 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

These are super interesting questions and they gave me cause for a little introspection!

I've seen discussions here where people talk about enjoying these activities just for the sake of enjoying them, without worrying about whether they pay for themselves or what anyone else thinks. How do you do it?

I don't really care about making money in my leisure time. I have separate, paying work to do that. I'd turn this around: ask yourself why your leisure activity should have to justify itself. You don't expect watching a sunset to pay for itself, so why should your other pastimes?

As for what other people think, well, I share very little of what I write. I enjoy doing the work of writing but I enjoy the sharing a bit less than that, so I do less of it. When I do so it is not terribly important to me what other people think because I am not that other person. This attitude may be directly related to my advancing age.

What motivates you to create something?

I write because I like writing. There are a lot of words in my head and they have to go somewhere so I don't just blurt them at people at horribly inappropriate times. I like the idea of writing as much as I like actually doing the writing. There is other difficult-to-categorize stuff I create -- I would not call it art as that isn't what I set out to make and others do not experience it as such -- that I do like to a narrow audience and often the point of it is to share it.

What joy and satisfaction do you derive from it?

I occasionally read what I write. It's a great way to capture a snapshot of my cognition, and at the place where my development as a writer stalled there's still a ton of ego in reasons for writing. But mostly I write to get the ideas out of my head. I could just as easily completely discard every word I produce, because the act of producing it is what I derived satisfaction from. What's left after I do that is just artifacts.

At this point in my life I want much less actual work and much more doing what I want to do, so I write and do those other things.
posted by majick at 6:27 PM on August 11, 2020

I would say to just make the art you want to make and hope that some of it turns out coherent to a post-pandemic you.
That's pretty much how I operate anyway- hoping that the things I create still make sense to me later.
Good luck!
posted by jamesdtj at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2020

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