Why Do We Make Things?
September 17, 2013
I seem to be all over the map (again), wondering why I am spending my days the way I do. Why do I take photos, again and again, of flowers and leaves, etc.? Haven’t I done that already? Why do I spend my time creating blog posts after all these (4+) years, and would it make more sense to live my life off stage? Especially when there are (many) days when I seem to have nothing to say? Why am I taking up a paintbrush? What am I trying to say, if anything, with my little watercolor sketches, such as these oak leaves and acorns? (Maybe the value is in taking the time to see rather than in having something to say?) But am I just replicating in paint what I am stuck with in photography?
So I maunder through the days and trust that I am learning something from the struggle. And if I use these blog posts to natter, it is a reflection of my unsettled mind, and I hope you will bear with me.
Last week I went to a lecture entitled “Why Do We Make Things,” part of a series presented by Seattle’s Town Hall Arts & Culture. I left after a few minutes, too antsy to listen to this panel of four artists talk about how they played in their Dad’s workshop or cut out paper dolls. I wanted to hear some deep thoughts about the existential why. I unfairly, perhaps, decided I wouldn’t learn anything from these artists’ personal stories. I know I learn better from books, which I can ponder at my own pace.
This week I checked some books out of the library about the craft of writing, shaping words. My daughter will be teaching her fifth grade students about voice, word choice, etc. and I thought I might stumble across a book or two with some ideas for her. And I found one gem, Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns, that spoke directly to my heart. What he said about poetry applies equally to blogging, painting and the arts in general:
“I think when I first started writing in my teens and became increasingly committed to it in my early twenties, I wrote to be a contributing member of some great community . . . And I did it to be noticed, to be loved and authenticated. I did it to be important. I did it to give myself a voice. I did it to be published. I did it to have a job. I did it to earn a merit raise. I did it to push back the night. I did it to sing. Oh, I wrote for all sorts of reasons. Then those reasons began to drop away, and now I do it mostly for itself. I do it because I love it; I do it because I have no choice. But the act of letting the poem go, of sending it out to be published, is now something I must make myself do. And I do it to maintain my tenuous connection to the world. . . . This connection, however, might be to only one person, one reader with whom the poet feels an affinity. Nowadays I write for quite a few people who are no longer living.”
And I especially like this next Dobyns insight into why we make things: “Writing a poem is one of the ways to love the world.”
And loving the world is always a worthy thing.