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 period—be it something in the news or circumstances in your career—you might catch yourself asking, “What’s the point?” You might even begin to see your work as frivolous.

With so much negativity in print and online, it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture. Well-meaning thoughts might enter your head.

Shouldn’t I be out there saving people?
Shouldn’t I be waging peace?
Shouldn’t I be 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.

©Kadira Jennings, Spring. Oil on canvas, 45 x 45 x 3 centimeters. Used with permission.

©Kadira Jennings, Spring. Oil on canvas, 45 x 45 x 3 centimeters. Used with permission.

And a quick note: This is a repost and update from May 14, 2015 (with original comments kept intact) because every so often you need to be reminded that what you do has great value in the world.

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. Let’s hear it for STEAM, which adds the arts back into the curriculum.

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, but absolutely true. Art nourishes souls.

©Marcia Tavernese, Over Under Over III. Oil, resin on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

©Marcia Tavernese, Over Under Over III. Oil, resin on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Used with permission.

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 techno-filled daily life, art encourages us to slow down and venture within ourselves.

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 connect us 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.

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.

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!

Pay attention and you might find the same thing going on at your local art museum.

©Cree Scudder, The Tower of Babble. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

©Cree Scudder, The Tower of Babble. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

6. Art connects us to civilization.

While art makes it easy for us to go within, it also reminds us to look beyond ourselves and even our contemporary communities.

I started college life as a painting major. I was a pretty good draftsman, but I never 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 entry point to history, religion, philosophy, geography, other cultures, mythology, science, revolution, and so much more.

Art is a vehicle for experiencing the world.

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.

©Ellen Hathaway, Sanctuary. Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 60 inches. Used with permission.

©Ellen Hathaway, Sanctuary. Mixed media on canvas, 40 x 60 inches. Used with permission.

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!

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 abandon it would be tragic.

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

  • You couldn’t have posted a better article for this time. I’m sharing it with several of our critique groups. The turmoil and negativity of the political divide has affected many of my artist friends. This is a good prescription for all. I really liked the video that one of your artists suggested. It put a smile on my face and warmed my heart. I’m posting that in my monthly newsletter as well. We can’t educate our clients and followers unless we give them some tools.

    Looking forward to your talk.

  • Thank you so much for posting this. It is much needed at this time. At any time, actually.

  • Thank you Alyson, for reminding me why I make art and why it is important. Absolutely STEAM!

  • donna

    perfect timing! I am at the point where I realized art – telling a story of how to fix the world is needed but I was hesitant to step forward. I am doing themes of permaculture, Earth care, People care and Care of the future – because we can fix things if we are willing to change or hearts just a little bit. I was contemplating the decision to commit when the phone rang. It was a scam call regarding an account so I checked my email to see if it was real; and there was your post. Decision made lol.

  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), I love this Alyson! When they removed Art from Cytology science in Australia I found Art again and it is a kinder more positive social and inspiring world to live in! I will be sharing your article. Susan

  • Bravo Alyson! Full STEAM ahead!

  • Since I firmly believe that art is the true basis for all the other STEM skills, I propose an alternate: ATEAMS. ART FIRST.

  • Thank you for this. I regularly ask myself those very questions and wonder if I should be “out there” more instead of “in here” creating art. Yet on a regular basis, my art gives me joy and gives others joy and that seems like a very good thing in this wild and crazy world. Making joy is worth a lot. Thank you Alyson, again.

  • Full STEAM ahead – indeed! Thanks, Alyson for this great reminder of why I keep going back to my easel. The ‘keepers’ of our society are afraid of creativity and artists because we can’t be easily put in a box and controlled. Creativity is the anthesis of conformity. Artists have always been at the leading edge of society, often heralding new ways of thinking, which upset the status quo. Long Live ART!
    And thank you for featuring my painting with your post 🙂

  • I love this article! It made me think of another reason to make art.

    Artists have spread ideas in ways the folks of other disciplines were unable to. Art gives the emotional impact behind the words.

  • Thanks, Alyson – I needed this. <3

  • THANK YOU FOR THIS POSITIVE ENCOURAGEMENT!!

    …Just when I recently heard that more art galleries will be closing down here in Laguna Beach, = and this whole town was started by artists.

    I paint because I love to paint,… I sometimes have to remind myself when art sales are slow.

  • Joycellen

    I get very frustrated investing so much time in my art. Art raised me as a child when I started viewing the world differently. An Artist knows ur alwalys an artist even if u never pick up a paint brush again. Yes I get frustrated but art has been my ministry for 29 years of sharing the visual arts and transforming lives for the mentally ill in forensics. To err is human, to create is Devine. There is only that moment of Devinity when there are no hallucinations, voices, or ramblings. Just Divine Peace.

  • Thanks for these encouraging words. After a couple of rough years I have been finding myself asking all those questions. Thank you for reaffirming my heart who I am and why I am here. Seems silly to question. I am obviously an artist. I am now looking forward to making more art soon. ❤️❤️

  • In response to recent events, I have been in a dark deep funk for several days. Today, as I am rising up for air, I find your blog in my in-box. Thank you so much for this very timely piece, Alyson!

  • I agree with you 100%. In my experience of more than 30 years in art, I’ve seen many things. I’ve seen how the painting does company to alone and sick people, have seen how children discover the world… All these things made me think about the role of the artist and about my contribution to the world. The art saves, accompanies and makes happy the people. And it helps to answer all those who say that the painting does not serve for anything, that we are dilettantes.

  • Eszter Rajna

    Love this post, so thank you very much. I ask myself those questions way too often. But I feel that my Art always pulls me back to myself. As it is so loyal to me – I’d like to stay loyal to my art also.

  • The world needs more artists now because it will remind us that creativity is closer to the human soul than technology is or will ever be. Technology is all about ones and zeros and not the mystery of discovering what can be at any moment in time. Creativity pushes us forward to the unknown in so many different and wonderful ways. Thanks for the reminder Alyson.

  • Part of the reason we moved to Austin is to bask in the Arts & music scene. Our kids will attend more creative-based schools and their artistic souls will flourish (hopefully)! Love your articles as always Alyson!

  • What a thoughtful and important blog post for all artists, wherever we create! Thank You Alyson.

  • Never a true word spoken . An extremely topical subject even in Australia people are slow in buying times are getting tough again and we must awaken the soul of people as art is so topical and always there to lift us and make us think . Brighten our day and daydream of another place . Lets help to keep it strong.

    Jo Gabe ARTIST.

  • In total & absolute agreement Alyson! I’ve been turning to my creativity more & more lately, exactly because I feel it heals & soothes something deep in my with all that is going in lately! Thank you, I’ve also shared with my readers!

  • With a sign of relief, thank you.

  • Sorry I am so late to respond but my daughter got married last week in Charleston and things crazy here for a while. THANK YOU for this. It is a question many artists I know have discussed…in this increasingly negative, polarized and frightening time. Thank you for your insight and passion and especially ongoing stalwart support of artist and art!

  • Carol Smith

    I have wondered the same, “Why Make Art.” It held me back.
    But, what if the Art you created gave one person peace & they shared that with another person. Any Artist would be happy to say that was their lot in life to Bless Others.

  • I was fortunate to be raised by artists. I was surrounded by artists Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents. I might seem extremist in this but I believe that education may have it all wrong. We need art (ceativity) first. Creativity is not in just the arts although that is paramount for it. I believe creativity should be part of all activities so ART as a base for all the rest. Begin the study of everthing with art then STEM possibly afterward.

    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” – Einstein

  • YAY for STEAM!
    Thanks for this post, Alyson!
    If I didn’t have my studio (my happy place), I would not be able to deal with all this craziness. Making art is the best thing I can be doing for my state of mind. It keeps me sane.

  • Bravo for this article…congratulations !!! I have taught art for 50 years…and you have inspired me to return to classroom and volunteer my services for the betterment of this society…not satisfied with helping the seniors to find som peace and happiness in this world…

    Will share your article with all my students

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