Why Do You Make?

An art practice is a way of being alive. A way of giving shape to a life. A way of making meaning, figuring out what you think/feel/see/need/want, or deem important.

I’m not sure why everything these days has to be commodified—as though that’s the only measure of value. Actually, I know why. It’s our economic system, that’s why. But this is not the only reason to do something. It’s not the only reason to direct one’s attention, or engage one’s hands, or make something.


We must detach ourselves from this idea that only that which enters the market or receives public acclaim matters, or has worth.

When a writer or artist becomes troubled (we all will at some point) with the question of whether anyone will want what they’ve made, whether it’s good, or whether it can become a way of earning a living, I can’t offer an answer. But I can offer another question:

Why do you make what you make (poems, images, songs)?

What does it give you that nothing else does? What does it allow to happen?


I have a friend who makes the most beautiful meals. It’s the taste of the food, and how she presents it, but it’s also the way she’ll pause to read a poem or sutra before beginning to eat. It’s the conversation, lights off, just one taper candle lit. The gentling of the room. The gentling of everything as we partake of a daily ritual. Ordinary and sublime at the same time. This is how she lives. I am inspired by her, and also try to make meals a time when beauty and poetry has a place. I know my family benefits from this. We begin eating after we’ve taken a deep breath and allowed some silence to settle around us.


I have a seven year old who makes little boats out of leaves and wood that she finds around our yard. I watch her through the kitchen window as she carefully adds a white clover and a purple violet to the twig mast of her vessel. She does this to make it beautiful, and because she thought of it. I don’t think this boat will ever float on water, though there’s a river nearby. Soon she’ll move on to something else—mining for quartz in the driveway, or blowing dandelion seeds. Floating is not the only reason to make a boat. This is how she plays.

Do you make anything for the pure satisfaction of making it? What about the pursuit of beauty, an idea, or a shapely line? What about the quiet we find inside ourselves when we sink into our interior? When we get lost in the work—even if only momentarily?

This approach to making has the power to transform busy, harried, overwhelmed lives into temporary autonomous zones where a single thought can happen. Where we can pay attention. Where poetry resides.

If you have thoughts on this matter of making, please share them in the comments. I’m preparing a series of articles for Culture Keeper magazine where I’ll continue to think about what we make, and why, so I’d appreciate your thoughts.


Poem by Cid Corman

Upcoming courses (click for more info):
June 21 Day Poetry Challenge (Online) June 1-21
Writers Retreat Practicum (Interlochen, MI) June 17
Poetry in the Park: Workshop (Glen Arbor, MI) June 18.
Live Your Art: Retreat and Creativity Incubator (Interlochen, MI) June 20-22
Small Pages: Writing and Painting as Contemplative Practice (Glen Lake, MI) June 25 (Co-taught with painter Carol C. Spaulding.)
Showing 11 comments
  • renlibrarian

    Dear Holly,
    I really enjoyed reading your post about this issue, the matter of why we create and the impulse to have our passion enter a market that may help us to access professional or financial gain. Sharing work for any of these reasons isn’t inherently bad, we need to survive and live well to create, but it is in the making that our intention matters. You probably said as much and I am reworking for reasons of my own understanding. Creating must give us joy, or insight, or a loss of self for a time. I love how you say it: “…we sink into our own interior.” I try to remember that that place of silence is there waiting for me, that in creating, there’s a depth where I sometimes feel gone, just a part of the flow. Thank you for writing.

  • Lori

    A big AMEN and YES to this! In a world that values things by how (financially) valuable they are, I walk between the lines, creating for the sake of creating because I have to. I am endlessly fascinated with creating things of beauty and surrounding myself with beauty just because my heart, body, mind and spirit are in alignment when I do. To me the greatest currency in the world is when the elements of inspiration, time, and natural materials come together with individual spirit. It is the experience of creating that has true value, not what happens whatever is made or how it is judged by others.

  • sejalshah

    This is so helpful for me, Holly. Thank you for writing and reminding me of this. As I write this, I’m at an artist residency and I can hear one of the residents playing the piano…she is not here as a musician, but it’s a lovely way she is contributing to our evening. Why do we make music? Why do we make art? Why do we write postcards when there is email? And yet our friendship (yours and mine) grew, in part, out of writing these postcards…

  • Jenee Rowe

    … Sinking into our own interiors. I connect with that line. When I make, when I move life out through my hands, I feel connected to my source and alive. During the aching minutes or hours when I desire the release of making but am not at it yet, I find that I get glimpses of my personal and spirtual challenges. Facing self-worth fears, getting out from under addictions and habits – these things come up forward moments before I hit my makers groove. Sometimes my mind can enjoy galivanting around with ideas while I make. My favorite times are when my hands are moving, my mind settles and meditation takes over. I make my most brilliant mistakes at these times. Breakthroughs – non thinking breakthroughs.

  • Joanne Grabinski

    I make because I have to and my first motivation in making the art and writing I do is for this reason. After so many years of “making do” with my creativity through daily personal and professional functional tasks, I made the choice when I stepped away from my long academic career to allow myself, finally, to follow two more intensely creative paths: 1) to emerge as an artist through designing and stitching my own original needlepoint art works and 2) to test my ability to write poetry, memoir, and essay. I am more advanced along the path from fine craftswoman to artist with my original needlepoint work and, while I most often create new pieces first as a way of realizing my dream to be an artist, I also now want to share what I create through exhibits and juried shows. Although I do set a price or market/insurance value on exhibit/show pieces, I do not (yet? maybe never?) design and stitch for the marketplace. As a creative writer, I’m still a novice writing to try my hand at different genre, to grow and learn and develop as a creative writer. I’m barely beginning to share a few of my writings with others, mostly a very few individuals I trust with my personal thoughts and experiences. In my academic world, I wrote a lot, including two editions of my book on careers in gerontology, book chapters, articles for juried and other professional publications, and some for the general public or targeted public audiences. Perhaps, sometime in the future, I will be ready to write for publication again, but not yet.

  • silverliningsweb

    What a post! 👌🏼😊

  • Rosemarie Canfield

    I love what you have written. So often I have asked myself, why?
    I am at the begining of putting pen to paper for others to read, but what if they dont, will I be content in the writing. As a child I danced a silly little childs dance, to me a joy, to others for laughter. To be seen, to be known, to be heard, to be celebrated, to leave behind a memory.
    ” I remember when you used to dance”, My mama says,” I loved every twirl, every skip and hop”.
    I dance in my kitchen, these days to the Bose that fills the room with sound, wonderful sound. i twirl, skip and hop. A voice comes to me soft and sweet and breathes into my ear, “I love how you dance”, mama whispers.
    Writing is to dance with words across the page, to leave a piece of myself, a memory to whisper into the hearts of those who may read, how many, how few, is not the reason. It is the joy of the story that pushes me forward. To leave behind a memory.

  • Joel Latterell

    So I’ve been doing the blogging thing recently in hopes of building one of those ‘platforms’ everyone keeps talking about. I’ve written some books and would like to find the path to selling them. This lovely entry of yours reminded me to just enjoy making stuff because it’s stuff and it’s fun to make. Thank you.

    • Holly Wren

      I appreciate your way of saying it: “just enjoy making stuff because it’s stuff and it’s fun to make.” I feel the same way. The fact that I enjoy what I do and make so much is exactly that: it’s fun. I enjoy it. It’s stuff. Some of us are wired to take this path and the reasons are deep inside us, regardless of what anyone else has to say and whether they get it.

  • Becca

    I have asked myself as well many times, why to create? But I think simply because it’s my gift and passion put inside of me, is the reason to create and bless others around me somehow. Maybe by just acting as an inspiration.

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