What’s The Point of Making Art When The World Is So Screwed Up?

If you’ve ever questioned the reason for making art, you’re not alone.

After a particularly rough time, you might catch yourself asking, “What’s the point?” You might even begin to see your work as frivolous.

Why Make Art

With so much bad news being printed and broadcasted, it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture. These thoughts might enter your head:

Shouldn’t I be out there saving people?
Shouldn’t I be waging peace and protecting the environment?

These are noble pursuits, but are they why you, in all of your magnificence, were put on earth?

After being asked these questions by a number of students and clients, I thought of at least eight reasons why you should be making art.

1. Art is Why You’re Here

Do you see that NOT making art isn’t going to save the world?

In fact, it is doing the opposite because one less person isn’t living their potential.

Not making art is depriving the world. Not just the potential of your art, but of the entirety of you.

Making art makes you whole and allows you to contribute to the world from a healthier position.

2. Art Saves Lives

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of hearing about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, and I don’t even have kids.

I have nothing against these pursuits (my husband has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics). But I believe that there are children who will never be scientists or mathematicians and who will grow up to solve big problems for society because they are creative and have developed critical thinking skills. They are probably disenfranchised from the current education system, but they are saved by art, music, literature, dance, and poetry.

My heart weeps for these kids who are being taught that their talents and interests don’t fit into the box.

While I’m riled up …

Why don’t we start an arts education revolution to stand up for future artists and arts supporters? (#SupportArtsEd) If we don’t, who will?

3. Art Nourishes The Soul

It’s a cliché: art nourishes souls.

But it doesn’t have this effect on everyone’s soul because not everyone is privy to experiencing art. They didn’t grow up with it and, therefore, don’t have a place in their lives for it right now.

Art only nourishes the soul of the artist and of those who are privileged enough to experience it.

Privilege doesn’t have anything to do with income level. In this case, privilege means access. If kids don’t make art in school or take trips to museums, they are less likely to experience art as adults.

4. Art Encourages Us To Go Within

In all of the hustle of our techo-filled daily life, art encourages us to slow down and go within.

When we experience art, we escape to a place of peace and of contemplation. We are reminded of the richness of life.

We need art for respite.

5. Art Helps Us Connects to One Another

How delightfully ironic that art can be both a contemplative and social experience.

Art unites us, but it does so differently than when we’re cheering for a sports team.

Rob and Alyson at The Gates

This was evident to me when I visited The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park in 2005.

It was a cold February and the park was brown. Thousands of people were out walking around the paths and through the flowing orange (“saffron”) gates – together.

We were simultaneously experiencing it individually and as a group. People were smiling, laughing, and posing for pictures – gate after gate after gate.

Art questions and confounds while also delighting us.

New York apartments with orange Christo flags

Neighbors got in the spirit of the event by hanging orange fabric from their windows just as one might hang the banner of a favorite football team.

It was the Super Bowl for art!

Look closely enough and you might see the same thing going on at your local art museum.

6. Art Connects Us to Civilization

While art makes it easy for us to go within, it also reminds us to look beyond ourselves.

I started college life as a painting major. I was a pretty good draftsman, but I never quite had the urge to paint every day.

What captured my fancy were my art history classes. Not because I loved memorizing slides, names, styles, and dates, but because the history of art taught me about the world.

Art was my way to learn about history, religion, philosophy, geography, other cultures, mythology, science, revolution, and so much more.

Art is a vehicle for experiencing the world. [Tweet this]

7. Art Completes Our Humanity

It seems appropriate to share the thoughts of poet, critic, and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at a conference in 2003. His address, as I recall, was focused on the need for arts education but it could be equally applied to our everyday lives.

The Greek word for art (“to make”) is “poiesis,” which Gioia described as “a way of knowing the world” separate from but equal to science and mathematics. As I addressed above, the latter two disciplines carry much more weight in budgeting by lawmakers and those who set school curriculum standards.

When art is seen as a luxury, Gioia’s argument goes, it is considered unnecessary to our survival and, indeed, to our prosperity. We are complicated beings, not just analysts. We have emotions, desires, and fears that can’t be explored or expressed through science and math alone.

Gioia explained that art is used to educate children about their feelings, not just their analytical thought processes. This comes in handy when, as adults, they are asked to analyze situations and not just facts and figures.

The arts foster individuality, freedom, and self-expression, the very ideals on which our nation is built. Art is not a luxury, but absolutely necessary, to complete our humanity. It is “mainstream civic common sense,” Gioia said.

In a commencement address to Seattle Pacific University, Gioia drove it home: “Art … simultaneously addresses our intellect, our senses, our emotions, our imagination, our intuition, our memory and our physical body — not separately, but together, simultaneously, holistically.”

8. We Need You to Tell The Story

A few final words if you’re not already convinced that there is value in continuing to make art.

Let’s face it: the world has always been screwed up. Yes, there is much beauty and magnificence throughout the centuries, but there have been ruinous wars, brutal treatment of our brothers and sisters, and devastating natural disasters.

Artists have shone a light on inequity and injustice throughout history, even when they seem unbearable to view.

Francisco Goya painted the execution of Spanish patriots rising against Napoleon’s army; Picasso painted the horrific aftermath of the bombing of a Basque village by Spanish Nationalists; and the Maya artists depicted sacrificial captives.

You should keep making art exactly because the world is screwed up.

The world is screwed up. Make more art! [Tweet this]

We need people devoted to communicating through the universal language of art to tell the story of our age. We need more people who are devoted to beauty and to peace.

That’s your purpose. That’s why you were put here and given the curiosity and talent of an artist. To not use it would be tragic.

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49 comments to What’s The Point of Making Art When The World Is So Screwed Up?

  • Feelings of discouragement sure seem to be abounding lately in my circles as well, so this was a bright read and a nice change. Thanks Alyson.

    Col

    PS. So very impressed with the new look of Art Biz Coach! Congrats 🙂

  • Cathy

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Art has saved my life. It has rescued me from negativity.

    I have guided my sons to find an artistic adventure and now I am guiding my very young granddaughters. It gives me great pleasure to see them light up inside doing ‘their art’.

    I think one of the problems we have in our society is that many people do not have hobbies. Therefore their energies get misdirected.

  • Thanks, Alyson, for this reminder that what we do is so very important. We ARE saving the world and civilization, one creation at a time.

  • Thank you, Alyson! This is powerful encouragement. It’s so easy to think I’m the only one having those doubts. Thanks both for refuting them and for reminding me that doubts are never original 😉

    What a blessing it is to make and offer art in this crazy, beautiful world!

    And I love your new look too!

  • Sue Lorenz

    Thank you!
    Encouragement was exactly what I needed today. It’s so easy to disregard art and artists as unimportant in the grand scheme of things….but that’s not the big picture after all. Long term, art is what will survive and define our time here–in the minds of our children’s children for many generations to come.
    Your words brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. Making art because the world is so screwed up makes beautiful sense to me.

  • Art is NOT a luxury … it nourishes the soul. That’s what I’ve always claimed. Great post Allyson, for artists and art lovers alike.

  • I endorse this post with an emphatic YAS! I never feel complete unless I’m making art and I’m thankful to be able to say that I can see how my work impacts my audience. I had a solo show a few weeks ago and it was so rewarding to listen to how people responded to the colors and imagery. Your post is so timely!!

  • Thank you, Alyson! This hit close to home and brought a tear to my eye. Surrounded by ‘practical minded’ people, I think about this topic often. Your post gave me some solid ammunition! 🙂

  • Thank you for your article. It is great when someone tells me that what I do is valuable. I just read this article by an industrial designer who tells people that art is important to all those STEM jobs and should be included in our education. http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/artsinSTEM033115.aspx

    It takes all kinds of people and careers to make the world a better place. Thank you again for your encouraging words.

  • Stephanie Brachmann

    Thank you for this thoughtful article! The very act of making art is a radical act. Artists are vital members of society who choose to reinterpret and think critically rather than participate in the surrounding oppression. Critical thinking is being actively discouraged in many parts of our country/world, because it doesn’t support the agendas of those in power. Art doesn’t have to be “political” in content to be radical; the decision and desire to create is already a political decision and one to be taken seriously.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful article. I have never understood why art is the first to go in school programs. I just figure cuts are done alphabetically.

    A really wonderful article to read as a follow up is Why Art Makes Kids Smarter by Nancy Kalish. It was published in Parents Magazine several years ago. She writes what many of us have thought about.

    This morning I taught art to two groups of “at risk 4 year olds”. We had a ball! I am not sure who learned more, me or the students. I may not be saving the whole world, but I did make a difference this morning!

  • As an addendum to your comments on the dropping of arts and music in school curriculums, there have been studies that show that training in art and music help develop critical thinking skills in other areas as well. Studying music helps language skills, visual art training helps students learn more abstract problem solving skills.
    Losing arts education does far more damage than just a lack of kid art for the refrigerator.
    I am grateful that I grew up in a time when arts education was readily available. I am devastated that this is no longer the case, and fear for this generation.

  • Hi Alyson,
    If you let the thought of what a screwed-up world we live in, you might just as well give in, let depression take over and never bother to get out of bed.

    I simply make art for me me and my world…its a place of colour [UK], love, light & happiness. It adds to my daily adventure IF I wake up [one day it won’t happen] its a whole day to be attacked with gusto with the gas pedal to the floor…yo-ho what a ride.

    At the moment art is in my dreams, in my spare moment thoughts and while I’m here…I have a second illustration rush commission for the second Part of ‘Brian The Baby Dragon’ [The fist part is now available from my website]…and a third part at an early stage.

    Simply put I’m too busy to worry about the world which has more problems than I could solve even if I was say: Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, Bono….

  • A great response to that other article that has been stuck in my mind since it was posted about there being too much art in the world (the two art critics whose names escape me right now)…
    As a teaching artist I have always known that teaching informs my studio practice and vice versa. One feeds the other, and I love both. I’m a licensed art educator, and have read a lot about the effect of art-making on children and adults. the studies are finally being done (we’re no longer just trying to convince people with our charisma and show and tell) and the evidence is building for the absolute necessity of divergent thinking in order to solve the world’s problems (hunger, climate, etc.). All may not become artists, per se, but they will learn ways of knowing and thinking about themselves and others that will make a huge difference. I see it everyday and I know it within myself. thanks again Alyson.

    And I concur with others- the new site looks great!

  • Hi again Alyson and fellow artists.
    Here’s a brilliant, funny and entertaining little video called “What is Art For?” by Alain de Botton.
    I’ve posted it a couple of times on my Facebook page and couldn’t resist sharing it here too to be part of this great discussion. Have a look … you will love it!
    http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2014/sep/10/what-is-art-for-alain-de-botton-guide-video

  • Jennifer K

    Art offers everyone a pathway to experance life through prospective of time. It doesn’t need to be paintings on canvas or even watercolor on paper. It can be the simplest poem that speaks to your sole or a single cord of music.

  • A wonderful post, Alyson. My daughter teaches middle and high school art in Lyons, CO, so I get to see what happens with that. It is amazing to see the effect that making art can have on young people. The experience of creating an idea and carrying it to fruition into a finished piece of art is empowering, exceptionally rewarding and a true growth experience for many school children. In today’s world, using one’s brain and creativity in that way is rare. Many of these children take the class for a so-called easy elective and then they are flabbergasted when they see what they can actually DO with some art class structure and encouragement from a teacher. Art is many things to many people, but I hope it never gets eliminated from our children’s school experience. They learn about art by doing art and they are much more complete in their education for it.

  • Thank you! So many truths here and such good stuff! I am going to link it up on a short blog post so others can find it. I found it through a post at HKC http://www.his-kingdom-come.com/

  • Barbara Muir

    Hi Alyson,

    At the MoMA last week I saw a class gathered on chairs around a Rothko. They were students from the University of Columbia medical school taking art as one of their required courses. The theory is that opening up to art increases the students’ creative thinking, and will help them discover new ways of responding to medical issues. Cool eh?
    Love this post.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

  • Many places are now adding art to the mix and are changing STEM to STEAM.
    http://stemtosteam.org/

  • Cat

    Hi Alyson,
    Timely article for me. Been bogged down with political issues has been a downer for awhile. It is refreshing to me to read that making art is to make the world a better place.
    Thanks!

  • Richard

    Three reasons: beauty, truth, and goodness.

  • I recently camped at Huntington Beach State Park and we visited Brookgreen Gardens, founded by Anna and Archer Huntington. Anna married Archer in her 40’s, was a world renowned sculptress, making a million a year from her sculpture. After the marriage, not only did the two found Brookgreen, the largest sculpture garden of American sculptures, but Anna never sold another piece.
    She didn’t stop sculpting! She was giving away every piece. Because she no longer needed to make money. For Archer’s part, it was said that a new museum popped up every where he went.
    This is what your article made me think of. Of course, not every artist, myself included, can afford to give away every piece. To me, the Huntington’s story is a great reminder that art is for everyone. And that it is actually mentioned in the International Bill of Human Rights as being a basic right to art, culture for all humanity.

  • For an inspiring answer to Alyson’s question, read John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. Here’s a tidbit from it: “Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.”

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists.html

  • Tai Smiley

    Thank you. This article is something I’ve unknowingly needed to find for quite some time now. Incredibly helpful.

  • jan

    As always, I appreciate your blog writing and defining clearly some of the benefits ALL persons gain from art within the world.
    However, I rarely hear persons speak of realistic issues that one faces as an artist- it seems taboo and a social no no.
    I have done extensive volunteer work for art organizations, which seem to benefit, such as non for profit and not for profits. Are the paid staff concerned about my welfare or interested in subsidizing my income by giving me some of theirs for my help?(most are not artists, they are biz persons)- of course not. I did it because of my belief in being involved, supporting the arts, meeting others.
    Just another example is that most, a very high percentage that is, of art shows I enter, I must pay a fee.(they do this to raise income for the organizations) I consider my painting accomplished and my belief system is having a conflict with many rules in the art community. There are no entry fees to participate in the business sectors, or most other walks of life. Artists have always had little income, so penalize me more?
    What about the persons who sell work(Christies, Sotheby’s) by well known artists? Do they ever support the arts by opening up grants, support systems? I apologize if I am unaware, and would like to be better informed. Did many of these artists live a meager existence?
    Yes, I’ve had an epiphany. I’ll do my art for myself and look elsewhere for food.

    • Hi Jan, thanks for bringing up this “taboo” subject and asking some good questions. I’ve been wondering this same thing. Making art keeps my soul alive, but it doesn’t always lead to paying the bills, which result in keeping my body and soul together.

  • Thank you for this. I am an artist, the daughter of an artist and have a day job in an art museum. There are some days I really wonder why we do this. Most days I am all in, but there are those other days.. ugh. This helps, a lot.

  • pamela shannon

    I was able to do alot of art work in N.M. in studio you can really find yourself, and
    connect with others. I would really like my own studio/Gallery, but shaky on start ups!
    pamela

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