Why do you make art?
Maybe, like me, you make art in your dreams, or in the arrangement of banana bits on your cereal but actually, you haven’t made art in a while, distracted instead by the dangling carrot that is your phone, so really, please just go away and stop asking me questions!
People spend their entire careers answering this question. Documentaries are made and books are written about why we make art – from cavemen tagging themselves into rock and immortality, to the Aztecs sculpting objects to worship the Sun God, the Romans carving out empires with stone, to arts and crafts of the Renaissance accelerating the enlightenment, to (no explanation needed) our Queen Bey.
Right before the pandemic hit, I was sitting at a bar with a friend and I asked her this question. Her response was: “So that people will love me”.
When I’m making art, it feels like I’m having a really good conversation with an old friend, like I’m connecting with something or someone inside of me that doesn’t get seen or heard very often. It feels like being loved.
This morning, while doom-scrolling, I stumbled on the work of #rughooking artist @AnyaPaintsil and it made me gasp out loud. This happens once in a while, in the barrage of digital imagery and clips, something will jump out, my thumb freezes mid-air and I just stop. I feel envy because I wish it had been me who made it, and then a rush of inspiration takes over and that little tap-tap-tap of my old friend. “I’m still here”, she whispers.
You don’t have to take art history to know that art is in our blood. It’s a part of our makeup, and it’s how we connect with ourselves and the world around us. With the additional omnipresence of digital tools, we’re living through a cultural metamorphosis of epic proportions.
I see it unfolding daily in my feed, manifested in the form of feather boa-clad Italian greyhounds, knives slicing into mounds of brightly coloured play-doh interspersed with ads trying to sell me eco-friendly matching sweatsuits. After scrolling on IG, I start to feel like that girl in the scene from the Exorcist where her head turns 360 degrees. Is this what art has become? At the mercy of algorithms and corporate persuasion?
I can’t shake this feeling that the time is urgent for us, as artists, to ask ourselves what impact we want to have in this new era. How can we be strategic and thoughtful about the ways we use these tools so that in the timeline of art history, our legacy was not that we got a lot of likes, but rather, we invoked love and helped make the world a better place to live.