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December 13, 2013
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My buddy dingalo.deviantart.com/ asked me for a response to help her go about an art project about "emotional consumption"-- what it's like to be "consumed by" an emotion or mental state of being (e.g., "consumed by guilt). I thought I'd share and see what other art people have to say about what drives their art practices :)

My response:
For about the 4 years (about 9th-12th grade) that I seriously considered "becoming an artist" (not that I had any well-outlined idea of what that would look like), I felt consumed by the faith in art that it could "change the world" or "help people" (in some vague sense--never outlining what that change would entail or how positive impact could be measured), and the romantic notion that artists/writers/musicians can usher in new paradigms of thought, overthrow oppressive regimes, stop environmental destruction etc. If it were possible for my art practice to catalyze such change, then it seemed to me that artmaking was altruistic AND a moral obligation. 

At the same time, however, I could never answer the mentally-consuming question, "is art a selfish pursuit?" In asking myself such a question, I was assuming that selfishness was morally reprehensible. Arguably it is: the time you put into making art and being completely consumed by your own artistic pursuit is time you could be putting into any other "practical" alternative activity that would generate more "good" for people (I put these terms in quotes what counts as something practical and what is good for the world is totally subjective). After one of the art programs I attended, one of my teachers concluded with some last words of wisdom: "art is totally useless." Of course, art still has value though--we wouldn't all be on this site if no one valued it. 
 
I wanted to pursue art because I genuinely thought I could "change the world" by making art that reflected on societal, environmental, and economic issues. Not that I really had to understand any of the issues very holistically to make art about them--what is the history of economic and societal development in the Philippines that has resulted in it being a poorer country with lower living standards than the U.S., with people living in places like Smokey Mountain?( dannayy.deviantart.com/art/Met… ). What has brought about technological change and facilitated the mass distribution and integration of new devices into our lives? ( dannayy.deviantart.com/art/Roo… ) Why does environmental degradation even happen? ( dannayy.deviantart.com/art/Ind… ) But as the artist it's not my job to do anything about it--just to scream "HEY GUYS LOOK AT EVERYTHING TERRIBLE IN THIS WORLD!" So doing art became about being that person who calls attention to issues and spreads awareness, but plays a marginal role actually eliminating and mitigating problems. Of course awareness is important--but it wasn't enough for me. I didn't want to admit that I was, to myself even, masquerading art as something that is purely altruistic. It isn't fully selfish of course: i'd say it's a mix of self-interest/selfishness but CAN create real good and impact people positively and be life-changing, and there's no reason to condemn that. But when you deal with big social justice issues in art, you have to acknowledge that there's a lot of work that needs to be done by a lot of people in order for you to get the outcomes you want. For example, it takes a while for the message embedded in an art piece about environmental degradation to manifest itself in any national cap-and-trade legislation (which died in the US Congress and hasn't been a huge success story in the EU) or international legally binding greenhouse gas emissions limits (lol). 

If you try to engage/address these big issues in artmaking, I'd say that you surround yourself with the delusion that you can change the world positively through the power of art. Which isn't to say that you can't or that art is powerless; it just seems to me that people purport art as being more powerful than it actually is. Art isn't political willpower or effective enforcement of any policies that will help the change you want to see happen come to fruition.

As I said before there's always an inherent time tradeoff when you make art: time i'm putting into art is time i'm not putting into doing more "useful" things in the world. But I also stated that art does have power to shape how people think and can certainly incite action and activism. I think people would agree that visionary and influential activist-artists like Banksy and Ai Weiwei are useful people as they try to keep their governments in check. But until you truly change people's lives and can see that on a scale that satisfies you (and it's hard to satisfy us egotistical artists), therein lies some futility in artmaking; frustration that your art isn't reaching people or that people "don't get it", and, until people do clear that success threshold, it seems to me like it's not best use of one's time. But this is a double standard in itself--how can people clear the threshold if they don't even try and don't put the time in to it? It seems like the dichotomy in art making is between that sinking feeling of its pointlessness and ineffectualness in creating the real changes you want to see in the world (or the fact that you have no idea to what extent you've impacted people's lives with your art) and the hopeful feeling that it always gives you when you imagine the potential impacts your art could have. I guess I have a utilitarian when it comes to how useful artists are.

If you don't do art to try to achieve these lofty ideals like "changing the world" or "changing the way people think," that is totally fine too. Art therapy creates it's own kind of good. People respond to aesthetically pleasing things--abstract paintings in offices and landscapes in people's houses. In the art world, realistically I thought I'd go down the freelance illustrator/ graphic designer road. But I'm not an art major anymore because there seemed to be no way to really reduce societal inequality in this country through taking on commercial projects to make money. Maybe putting all my time and effort into an environmental science major will yield some "good" (advancing what we know about the climate system, estimating climate change's impacts, understanding ecosystems and helping build their resilience... still pretty vague so far too). 

I don't have any delusions left about what my art making can do. I want to make some kind of enlightening graphic novel for people's entertainment and life enrichment, and also for my own entertainment--at the end of the day, drawing will always be fun and relaxing and self-fulfilling. And I can make money off art because people value it. So art can create utility, but making a movie or writing a book or painting a painting isn't guaranteed to be effective activism. 

What do you guys think? What are your goals in your art practice?
Add a Comment:
 
:icondingalo:
Also, someday, it's my life goal to make a story/graphic novel as well :) Not to make friends, but to make a meaningful narrative. idk if that'll actually happen, but I would die content.
Reply
:icondannayy:
do you have any concept art so far? ;)
Reply
:icondingalo:
After reading your this, I think I have a clearer understanding of my own reasons for making art.
My motivations are, more or less, purely personal, self-indulgent and perhaps, considering the state of the world,  trivial. I want to make connections with people and other artists, admire them and them admire me, swoon over beautifully illustrated pieces, make them laugh, and laugh with them over art, fanart, and comics. Basically, I want become one of the many internet artists who've made an impression on like-minded people with their art and made friends as a result.  I never really considered art as a means of activism...

I went into my major with the vague idea of helping people (what I remember from  my my high school senior environmental science class was "the world is going down and you're going down with it" so I thought "maybe I can do something about that!"). But helping people is very, very difficult. I don't believe in myself to be able to make the decisions and think of the ideas that will truly help more people than it would hurt? I was taking courses that revealed the many serious environmental and economic problems, but I didn't feel dedicated or strong enough to act on them. I was afraid of believing the wrong thing, I was frustrated at the complexity of issues and my inability to understand them and to pick a side, so I became fed up with it.

Interestingly...last year, I wanted to pursue animation as a career to fill an emotional void and escape difficulties I was having with my studies and beliefs. It was a rather thoughtless and extremely emotionally driven idea- I didn't have a strategy; I just wanted to use art as a means of escape. Though looking back, I may have had an even worse time if I had actually gone through with it. So. this is better.
 
You can make yourself completely unaware of the world around you by surrounding yourself with fictional stories and lives. Sigh, this is how I live my life. (I'm currently still kind of doing this but in a different way. Maybe I'll take a step out of my shell one day to really address my unfinished opinions). I wanted to do just the opposite of you by pursuing art (as I've always done), I wanted step away from addressing hard questions.
 
Reply
:icondannayy:
"My motivations are, more or less, purely personal, self-indulgent and perhaps, considering the state of the world,  trivial. I want to make connections with people and other artists, admire them and them admire me, swoon over beautifully illustrated pieces, make them laugh, and laugh with them over art, fanart, and comics. Basically, I want become one of the many internet artists who've made an impression on like-minded people with their art and made friends as a result.  I never really considered art as a means of activism..."

I think all these reasons that you want to make art are totally valid reasons that art is worth pursuing. Despite what I said before that "there's always an inherent time tradeoff when you make art: time i'm putting into art is time i'm not putting into doing more 'useful' things in the world,'"I kind of hate myself every time I think this because it's unfair: there are plenty of artists, animators, and entertainers who get to make art for a living, and no one is telling them to stop doing their jobs or stop making art because there are other problems in the world they could devote themselves to. If art is what they do best, they should do it because one, no one ELSE has a right to tell you what you should do with your life, and two, the world is probably way better with entertainment and the world would suck without entertainment/art/beauty and then there'd be much more harm done since we'd probably all be miserable. I totally come off as telling people what to do with my post though, I know.  I guess for me personally the logic went down the way it did because the opportunity to be even more useful with myself than pursuing art arose as I was applying to university. I feel like I've become much more informed about how the world seems to work since I've been here--e.g. becoming more generally politically and socially aware and at least caring about that stuff--but at this point I think i'm still better at doing art than anything else (honestly I haven't done THAT fantastically in any of my classes here, like not a single one--like i don't feel like i've been as deeply involved in anything as much as art yet bc most of my classes have just given me a flavor for their disciplines). 

"I went into my major with the vague idea of helping people (what I remember from  my my high school senior environmental science class was "the world is going down and you're going down with it" so I thought "maybe I can do something about that!"). But helping people is very, very difficult. I don't believe in myself to be able to make the decisions and think of the ideas that will truly help more people than it would hurt? I was taking courses that revealed the many serious environmental and economic problems, but I didn't feel dedicated or strong enough to act on them. I was afraid of believing the wrong thing, I was frustrated at the complexity of issues and my inability to understand them and to pick a side, so I became fed up with it."

quite literally the story of my life. are we the same person??

"Interestingly...last year, I wanted to pursue animation as a career to fill an emotional void and escape difficulties I was having with my studies and beliefs. It was a rather thoughtless and extremely emotionally driven idea- I didn't have a strategy; I just wanted to use art as a means of escape. Though looking back, I may have had an even worse time if I had actually gone through with it. So. this is better."

i totally sympathize: in an alternate universe, I'm learning Japanese and learning to animate so I can go work for Studio Ghibli and be surrounded by art and its beauty forever =P If you do art for a living I guess eventually it isn't about escape eventually--it becomes about your career and making money at least partially too. So when I do art now (now that i'm not majoring in it), it feels more like escape because it's totally removed from what I could make a living doing. Which is nice, actually. That was something that dissuaded me so much from going into art: that doing it as work for a job would completely remove that escapist quality which is one of the things that makes doing art enjoyable. And one good thing is that of course it's never fully escape (unless you never show your art to anyone). You said you want to engage in the community and share your art with people, which is the one of the other things that makes doing art so enjoyable--it's a form of communication and it allows you to connect to people (e.g. in the fandom art shapes the community and reflects on the source material and adds to it, and other people look at your art and their experience of the fandom expands, and it's a positive feedback cycle) and share your creativity, ideas, and techniques.

 You can make yourself completely unaware of the world around you by surrounding yourself with fictional stories and lives. Sigh, this is how I live my life. ... . I wanted to do just the opposite of you by pursuing art (as I've always done), I wanted step away from addressing hard questions. 
 
It's funny bc that first sentence is kinda what the graphic novel I want to write is supposed to be about--to call attention to the fact that this is what people do every day of their lives whenever they engage in any form of entertainment: music, video games, TV, reading books (we could talk about nonfiction and the news vs fiction, but what is nonfiction and the news? more stories that just happen to be real). I think it comes down to balance: there's nothing wrong with engaging in any of this media, and we LIVE for it. it's just when it comes to the point when it's too much and your life is out of balance (this will be different for everyone of course) that it seems like pursuing art or pursuing the creation of any of these things is superfluous. So I think I was doing TOO MUCH art and not enough of other stuff. 

So I don't want you to walk away from my post super depressed and unmotivated to do art!! I'm always telling everyone the time to do art and make deviantart and share their art etc. There's nothing better in the world to me than just drawing and painting and doing digital art, but it's all about the balance :) 


 
Reply
:icondingalo:
Happy first day of university!
Okay, so this is a MONTH late- you're getting to know another one of my flaws, which is putting off things that make me an inch nervous (like report cards). I was nervous to check back because... >.< ugh, because in response to your wonderful honest confession, I also gave an honest confession I wasn't proud of so I didn't want to face it (again, just a little bit like report cards).

"I feel like I've become much more informed about how the world seems to work since I've been here--e.g. becoming more generally politically and socially aware and at least caring about that stuff--but at this point I think i'm still better at doing art than anything else (honestly I haven't done THAT fantastically in any of my classes here, like not a single one--like i don't feel like i've been as deeply involved in anything as much as art yet bc most of my classes have just given me a flavor for their disciplines)."

I still feel as though I'm getting flavors of different departments- but perhaps that's the nature of being an interdisciplinary undergrad (also being someone who's fluctuated so much as an undergrad). I haven't really chosen a field to engage in more deeply as others have. I really do think that's a result of being an Environmental Studies major- you have the option of going deeper in policy or geology, but you can also stay in the middle, unlike other majors. I'm sort of grateful in that I don't have to be too deep with a field I'm not interested in, but that also means I don't have a deeper knowledge or marketable expertise in either area >_>

"quite literally the story of my life. are we the same person??"

I'M HERE FOR YOU FRIEND.

"
I think it comes down to balance: there's nothing wrong with engaging in any of this media, and we LIVE for it. it's just when it comes to the point when it's too much and your life is out of balance (this will be different for everyone of course) that it seems like pursuing art or pursuing the creation of any of these things is superfluous. So I think I was doing TOO MUCH art and not enough of other stuff."
 
Don't worry, I wasn't super depressed or unmotivated after your post; it just made me very aware of my reasons. You can express yourself really clearly and articulately while being fair and thoughtful, so I felt clear-minded enough to write it down :) 
I think I'm more satisfied with art being a sort of escapist, side activity than a career too! I'm rather relieved it didn't go down that way.

At this point, I think I'm doing too much other stuff (art stuff, entertainment), and I need to start re-educating myself on current events and issues; I shy away from them, but it's important and helpful in the long run. I'll never be a nut for the turmoil of controversy and policy, but I can definitely improve and it's always on my mind (whether or not I act on it though).
Reply
:icondannayy:
hows the beginning of the sem for you been?? we gotta hang soon : )

I still feel bad for stressing you out with my thoughts xD i gave you way more than you asked for when you asked me for some ideas for your art project lol (you should post em up btw! ;) )

you're totally right about the pros and cons of enviro studies... I'm glad I got to take a bunch of dif classes in dif departments, like a lot of my friends haven't been able to since their majors are so structured. but they're getting really good at what they've been hardcore studying though haha. i'm trying to catch up but it's gonna be an endless struggle throughout college... and i've realized enviro science is definitely the most general out of all the science majors since you can pick and choose from all the sciences. damn, it's the same problem isn't it. well, I hope it works out. It's super cool tho just how much you've gotten to experiment with--like youve taken so many cool classes! 

you're definitely motivating me to keep up art btw. like there's no one here at school that i know that's on your level (well, there's Yang too, but I don't know him as well). and it won't be just escapist for us--we'll move people / change their lives dynamically hopefully :)
Reply
:icondingalo:
lol I guess it's kind of (just kiiind of) okay to do that during undergrad- it makes me feel better that people seem to switch all the time. now that i think about it, i've taken classes from 10 departments >.> bio, chem, che, dance, art, geo, history, polisci, eco, eng, [and later, cs]. I'm totally violating the proverb: "I fear not the man who knows 1000 kicks, but the man who has practiced one kick 1000 times" or something along those lines. I'm trying to narrow my focus now, even if it's a tad too late.

Same, and there's no one I know at this school who values ATLA or Ghibli  more than you :> that's super important.
Reply
:iconalistu:
Alistu Dec 13, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Simple and short answer from me; I create because I enjoy it.
Reply
:icondannayy:
There's probably more though: what happens to it after you make it? You show it to people ya? Therein lies more motives probably ; ) If you hide it that's cool though, but this site is all about sharing (to influence other people? to show off? to contribute to the community? to inspire others? 

alistu.deviantart.com/art/Fore… to convey your feelings to others?
Reply
:iconalistu:
Alistu Dec 13, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah, I think I probably do do it to show off as well. I guess I like the attention and that adds to my enjoyment.
I suppose my answer was "simple" because I don't really think about the reasons behind why I create things most of the time.
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