What's your artistic or creative purpose? How do you figure it out? Do the art and artist need special purpose?
Nashville Creative Group is a group for artists and creatives, started and maintained by local artist Beth Inglish. It has a well used Facebook page which provides a space to show your work, ask a question, or throw out an idea and get some feedback. Beth will often pose a question, inviting artists to share something that might be a bit personal, always related to art or the creative spirit. (It takes prompting to get artists out of their heads sometimes.)
A few days ago she asked "How are you living out your purpose with the work you create?" This group is no different than any other Facebook group in that this question got thoughtful answers, funny answers and some skeptical answers. I didn't reply at all because I think it's kind of a difficult question. And because I couldn't come up with a good funny answer.
It seems as though the question about the purpose of the artist and the purpose of art itself may need to be examined together? However, pondering these questions can initiate that one-thing-leads-to-another-and-spiral-into-oblivion kind of thinking. Here's how it goes for me... I am many things and among them are mother, daughter, sibling, nonprofit executive, friend, artist/creative. I want to use the life that I've been given to add to the world, shape a contribution, leave a legacy. Things that I invest in, that I create, that I give heart to, reflect me. I want them to be meaningful, have purpose. It's not so difficult to identify the purpose in those first five ways I describe myself. But the purpose of "artist" is much more elusive.
Art, in some ways, could be considered non-essential. I know people who say "Art? Not really my thing. Never been to a gallery; don't think I'm missing anything". While I don't actually understand how these people live and breathe, because for me art seems so fundamental to living, I do know (and like!) many people who feel this way. After all, art doesn't sustain biological life. It is possible to be alive and happy without it. Except for those of us who can't be. This is where the thinking spiral begins. I need to be creative. I need to make. And I need my life to have meaning, my time here to be well spent. I need to practice gratitude for the ridiculous richness of my life. I want to live in a way that moves us closer to a world where people aren't hungry or homeless, where love is always more important than hate, where we believe and behave with a commitment to peace and equality. I don't know (full disclosure!) if making cool ass jewelry or any of the other creative things that I love to do really serves those ends? I don't know if my need to make art can stand up beside the growing population of homeless teenagers in my city, the families who go to bed hungry, the persistence of racism, poverty, injustice and countless other urgent wrongs that my earring time could be spent to help remedy. Thus my dilemma in determining my purpose as an artist.
And then there's the purpose of art. Historically art has had huge purpose, reflecting good and evil, providing some representational history of the politics, religion, and social norms and ills. It has given voice to the riches of royalty and to the angry, marginalized and disenfranchised. It is funny, sarcastic, ironic. It can be over the top or minimal. It can confuse me or leave me cold or make me cry. Does all of that reflect actual purpose? I don't know. I would even argue that I don't want art to have a definable purpose all the time. Sometimes I just want to be entertained or mesmerized or overcome because it's so damn beautiful. I'm drawn to that kind of art. It fills me up, leaves me inspired, energized and happy. Perhaps that's purpose enough.
Maybe there are other questions to consider. Does art start a conversation? Does it make us uncomfortable, which might encourage us to think instead of simply walk away? Does it grant us peace in the moment that we receive it? Does it re-balance a chaotic and sometimes harsh world by invading our brains and souls with beauty? Does it let us be who we are more fully so we can feel powerful enough to change the world? To me, these questions do start to clarity the purpose of art.
So back to the beginning...what is my purpose as an artist? What does it mean to create art that has purpose? Does this by default give the artist purpose? Is my art significant enough to have purpose? (Now there's a rabbit hole....) Does it have to validate its place in my life by supporting the primary story I want my life to tell and the legacy I most want to leave?
Still working on answers. What do you think?
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Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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