Updated: Oct 29, 2022
You know, sometimes people slide into my DMs… and they ask me sexy, scintillating questions… like:
How do I stay motivated to create art?
And I just want to ask back, “Do you need motivation to take a piss? Do you need motivation to eat?” No you don’t, because these are biological compulsions. “Do you need motivation to socialise, do you need motivation to play video games?” No you don’t, because these are psychological compulsions. There is a feeling of necessity behind each compulsion. An internal drive. An aching yearning. An ever-present desire.
By the end of this post I will have convinced you that creating art isn’t just a little side hobby, it is a goddamn spiritual compulsion - a moral imperative of the highest order.
Of course, this life path isn’t for everyone – everyone has their own little place in the metaphysical ecosystem. Some people want to be Scientists, always searching for the secrets of universal machinations. Some people want to be Executives, organising and directing corporate operations. Some people want to be Mole Men living in the mountains, surviving off witchetty grubs. But if you clicked this post then this message is probably directed at you, the Artist.
Just as you are compelled to eat delicious pizza so you don’t starve, you should be just as compelled to create art, as creation is the sustenance your soul survives off.
Now when people ask that ever-so pernicious question: How do I stay motivated to create art?
It signals to me that they are motivated to make art – or else they wouldn’t even be asking this question.
They want to draw.
They want to paint.
They want to sculpt.
They want to dance, to write, to play guitar, to basketweave or whatever the fuck.
What they are really asking is “how do I mfkn DESTROY the blocks that stop me from creating art?” That’s altogether a different question! (I will explain how to cure art block in my next post – this post will be explaining first why art is even an important pursuit in the first place).
It is super clear to me that there exists in a large subset of the population, a persistent and pregnant need to CREATE. Of course, you see it in the art student who draws on every surface she can find. But you also see it in the businessman who crochets in his spare time. You see it in the hot dog vendor who dreams of guitar licks in his sleep. Or the doctor who writes novellas in her lunch breaks.
People will find ways to pursue creative outlets – but they don’t do it to gain money or status. They do it because it allows them to manifest some part of their essence; their soul. It is life-affirming - the opposite of nihilism.
Art is the antidote to nihilism.
And let me emphasize again that this need for creation is not financially or socially driven. Actually, I will explain exactly how being financially or socially compensated for an artwork does not increase the inherent value of the artwork at all.
That’s NOT to say that you shouldn’t sell or share your artwork. Please do!!! One of the best feelings in the world – at least for me – is sharing an artwork and having it resonate deeply with another human being. The type of loneliness it alleviates… oh, I cannot even describe it! To think there is another person out there in the world, who thinks and feels like I do!
However, you need to make sure that you are creating authentic and pure art before you unleash it out onto this world. Without this honest foundation, no artwork you create will be meaningful in any deep metaphysical sense.
Let’s explore why you should create beautiful meaningful art.
ALL ART IS QUITE USELESS
Art is important because it is fucking USELESS.
It is useless because it cannot be used instrumentally to facilitate the function of another thing.
“Wtf does that mean, kari? Can you be a little less abstract?” Let me give you an example. My dishwasher is useful because it cleans my plates so I can eat off of it without contracting salmonella. Thanks dishwasher, very cool. My plant pot is also very useful because it can hold my plants and keep them happy. Thanks pot, much appreciated.
In a capitalist context, useful things are awesome because they improve efficiency for the consumer. The market value of any given object is generally proportional to its use-value.
However, in matters of the soul, for lack of a better word, we must endeavour to find intrinsic value rather than instrumental value.
Why must we look for intrinsic value? The fact of the matter is this:
The more useless something is, the more valuable it is. This is because its value is derived intrinsically and not from its usefulness in fulfilling some external purpose.
But that is not to say all useless things or art are inherently valuable… more on that later.
When art is produced as an item with a “use”, a “purpose”, or end goal, or instrumentally, it is debased. True art is something greater than a useful object. It is a true expression of human nature. It is a creation that doesn’t need to be justified by a purpose. I believe most people understand this intuitively – which is why commercial art is not seen as valuable as, say, renaissance art.
This idea is the opposite of Machiavellianism, in which the ends justify the means. Instead, the ends are ends-in-themselves. The ends justifies itself.
Art justifies itself. It is a pure and honest extension of the artist.
To illustrate this point, let me tell you about the story of a blind painter.
THE BLIND PAINTER
There once lived a blind painter who was happy painting her whole house top-to-bottom. She painted trees on the walls, birds on the floors, flowers on the doors. She painted every day for months and months, with great fervour and enthusiasm. She then burned her house down before anyone could see her creations.
The blind painter did not paint for any purpose other than to paint. There was something intrinsic in her nature to create. There is no end-goal or use-function for her art. Her art justifies itself.
As a result, her art was a pure and honest expression of her soul.
In reality, her art did not even exist in the paint on the walls. It existed in the act of painting. That ephemeral, fleeting, but infinitely joyous act of painting.
When Picasso was asked to explain the meaning of his paintings, he replied:
"Everyone wants to understand art. Do you try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them?
If only they would realize above all that an artist works of necessity…"
This is what I mean by authentic art. Art created for the purpose of creating art.
Not to make money.
Not to impress people.
But to manifest the truest, purest, and most honest expression of the artist.
And authentic art has the power to change the world in a massive way.
THE POWER OF AN IDEA
How surrealist art accelerated human evolution
Imagination is the ability to dream of things that don’t exist.
Imagination then is the great kindling for art. With art, we are able to create things that don’t exist. We are able to bring fantastic ideas into existence. We are able to push the boundaries of what we know by playing and interplaying with otherwise inert ideas.
Let’s take a look at this ivory art figurine from circa 32,000 years ago:
Here we see a lil sculpture with a lion’s head and a human’s body. This simple figurine is more significant than you think. It is the seedling for the cognitive revolution of human evolution.
The Lion-Man is one of the first recorded instances of creative art. Of course, there are other records of cave art, but they were mostly very literal – depictions of cattle, humans, and handprints. The Lion-Man however is a work of pure fiction – there is no such thing as a bipedal creature like this existing (unless the history books are omitting something very strange from us).
Now let me explain how this led to the massive acceleration of the evolution of homo-sapiens.
Human evolution depends on human co-operation. It is only when we work in a close-knit tribe or herd that we can successfully survive and reproduce. We do this by communicating to other herd members about the whereabouts of game and berries, of predators and prey. Of who in the tribe can be trusted or not. (I say “we” as if I lived in this goddamn primitive era... but anyway) But how do we form societies and cultures on a large scale? How do we communicate to each other in a society comprising of more than 150 members? More than a thousand members? Or several thousand?
Enter: Fiction. Fictional myths, legends, and religions are simultaneously the glue and drivers of large-scale tribes based on human co-operation. With myths, we can unite thousands of people with a single idea. Tribes can unite and carry out rituals commemorating spirits and ghosts. They unite by creating powerful stories of lion-men and anthropomorphic gods.
“Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, “Careful! A Lion!” Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say, “The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.” This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language”.
- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
We see this with Aboriginal dreamtime stories of how the kangaroo got its tail.
We see this with ancient Greek legends of Prometheus blessing the world with fire.
We see this with Norse myths of the hammer-wielding thunder-God Thor.
Even our current western civilisation is predicated on Christian myths of Noah’s ark, of Jesus walking on water, and of Jesus healing the blind and sick. These stories actually provide the foundations of what we value as a society today – the values of charity, morality, forgiveness, self-control, and love.
This is why I believe art is particularly important, and still important today. The ability to create authentic art and then transmit these ideas across societies has massive implications. It not only gives the artist a deeper sense of purpose but weaves them into society at large in a meaningful way.