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.