Why We Create


I wonder, if one hundred visual artists were questioned why they create, how many different answers I would hear. I also wonder how many similar answers would emerge. Often, there are two somewhat disparate aspects to why we create. One is for self-satisfaction, personal fulfillment, or financial reward. The second is one that we, as photographers, are often reluctant to admit: so that others will see and appreciate what we do.

Eileen's headshot is by Athena Photography

There are few examples of artists who made a lifetime of work and never attempted to show anyone. It can be the other half of the creative photographic process that is often unknown to us. Where is the work ultimately going to be seen? What will be the reaction from the viewers? Will I even have any viewers? (Can you hear the crickets chirping?)

It may be difficult to contemplate the broad spectrum that we, as working artists, must consider—what is my subject matter, what are my techniques, what are my motivations, who are my inspirations—not to mention bookkeeping, marketing, social networking, shameless self-promotion, etc. Why the heck am I doing this anyway? By the time all of these tasks are addressed, we may be too exhausted to consider the where, when and how of showing the work.

But here is a place I would like to stop and contemplate. Let's say I asked the same one hundred visual professionals if they remember a time that they were greatly impacted by an image or work of art. I imagine each could describe in detail the exact moment. I will never forget the first time I saw a (fill in the blank with said photographer, painter, sculptor, performer.) We remember not only the piece itself, but also the experience of standing in front of the work and the emotions that surfaced in the process. Those are the moments that create art so valuable, desirable, and sometimes...indescribable.

Recently, I had a conversation with a photographer I had just met. We were talking about that experience of being blown away by a piece of art, and attempting to identify the emotions that overcame us as we stood in its presence. It is this part of the art that keeps creative types going. Not only the direct experience and all the ideas and emotions that flood us as we work our hands and tools in the studio or field, but the relentless hope that someone out there will be equally moved while viewing the work.

Now, I do not advocate letting this sit in your brain while you are composing the photograph, approaching the canvas, or choreographing the next move. It would cripple you creatively if you considered the viewers' reactions and emotions while conceiving or executing the work. But in those small moments (and I hope they are small), in the quiet of the studio, office, or location, when perhaps you are tired, disillusioned or contemplating an office job, transport yourself back to the first time you saw (insert said inspirational, life-changing, moving moment in front of said artist's work) and think of the one person you might reach, who may have that moment standing in small wonder or boundless awe in front of your image. Take a moment to contemplate, tuck it away, then get back to creating.

For more articles like this, find information about Eileen's photographic journal about inspiration and art at Butterflies and Anvils and at her own website.