Why Do We Make Things?

September 17, 2013

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

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.



18 Responses to “Why Do We Make Things?”

  1. Mary Heath Says:

    What a quote and plenty of justification for our watery dithering! Don’t doubt yourself. I am grateful that so often when I read your thoughts, you are expressing my own, except that I didn’t know yet that I had them! Your daily posts wake me up to the day and to myself. Thanks, Rosemary. Love Mary

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thanks, Mary. It is gratifying to know that I make connections with one or two people, and this post reinforces that is a good justification for keeping going.

  2. Renee Says:

    I have a nephew that had an artistic leaning since he was a small child. He wrote a book and excelled at drawing. Now I know all those proud parents that hang scribbles on the wall but even as an adult he has created some unusual and artistic pictures. He has gotten the drive to be a filmmaker. Where this came from I don’t know. He has created some films and gotten paid for some of them. Being artistic is a gift and you are sharing yours with us. I am from New York City and I think of your photos all the time. You have seen New York in a way I never had and you have opened my eyes to this city. I believe the reason you make things is because it is in your soul and it is a gift you are sharing with many people. Believe me ever since I laid eyes on your watercolors I was amazed by them and had asked if any were for sale. I find so much beauty in your paintings that at times have taken simple items and given them life. Please don’t ever stop “making” things. You have something in you that few people are lucky enough to have.

  3. Kitty Says:

    I appreciate your writing here and share your questions. Thank you for the support your blog offers!

  4. gretchen@preville.net Says:

    that is so lovely Rosemary! Indeed – we are all here to love this world – and when we do, it is a choice. ; > Thank you! Gretchen

  5. Adrienne Says:

    When I ask myself why I paint, my best answer is, because I must. Perhaps we are descended from the Lascaux cave artist. I view your blog over my morning coffee – like coffee with a friend. Also, with two loved ones in Seattle, you somehow bring me closer to them when you share what is happening in that lovely place.

  6. Lynne Says:

    You’ve raised a lot of interesting questions about creativity and productivity. Why do any of us need to make things? I think humans are hard-wired to make things and be creative. It’s part of what allowed us to evolve as a species. It finds its expression in different ways in different people, through our talents and personalities. I worry that as a society we’re losing a lot of this creativity as we all become more gadget-dependent and fixated on technology, though I think there will always be individuals who simply can’t help being artists in some kind of field. Thank goodness for that! And all the seemingly stalled periods, when you wonder what you are doing and to what end, seem to be necessary gestation for the big leaps forward. So hang in there! Enjoy the process for itself and the rest – whatever it is – will follow.

    • Rosemary Says:

      You give such an encouraging view of the stalled periods. I need to cultivate the virtues of resiliance and patience and persistence.

  7. camilla wells paynter Says:

    Dobyns makes a good point: the stories we tell don’t need a wide audience, public accolades, and financial gain to justify their existence. This is a bill of goods we’ve been sold by the insidious dark side of our culture. They are your creations, and like children, once they come into the world, they have their own lives and their own reasons for being. The power is in birthing them. “All art is sacred, because it’s made deep inside the person, in a spot you can’t see, can’t buy.” –Venaya Jay Yazzie

    • Rosemary Says:

      And that’s why it is so very, very difficult to even begin to put a price tag on art, should I become interested in selling it and making a sideline income from my photos and watercolor paintings. I would like to move in this direction, but I am not there yet.

  8. Elisa Says:

    I do not have to nor do I get to see any of your thought, planning, or angst about your posts here. Sometimes I imagine it it effortless. Other days I watch you produce what is only still rattling about in my head. I like the simple daily things and how you represent them. Sometimes I reset me by them. Sometimes I am in the same place, but it interests me how you express it, when I do it in another way.

    I wonder over rituals sometimes. Which ones have become rote habits. Which ones do I just faithfully continue doing what brings me grounding and freedom of expression, during a time when such acts feel–missing intensity or meaning. Sometimes I focus on the fight to keep, what I have announced to myself, is meaning. Being able to go back through your posts helps me to see where I have been, where I might be now, and that I am not alone.

    I say the above things because they are true to me. I don’t so often share these types of thoughts. I never know when a blogger doesn’t really want me to talk about how I feel about their ‘work’. I notice a lot of commenters are only worth saying something ‘nice’ or propping another up. I like knowing or trying to know how an artist felt and feels now, about their work. I like sharing my own feelings. It’s intimate and simple. Very simple with simple postings. I appreciate your time and the food for my brain.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for your meaty comment. I like what you say about rituals, the tension between their freedom qualities and rote qualities. I see that in my life, too.

  9. When I found my voice again 3 yrs ago I found I wrote for me first and with hopes it will speak to others…this post and the quotes resonated with me.

  10. Hello I invite you to read my very humble blogs where i ask similar questions. http://www.pottingsheddirect.co.uk i am spurred on to continue by yours. I dabble always have done, love writing but haven’t really explored it until now. I also was ridiculed for this dabbling that I had to settle down and pick one thing. Well thank goodness I didn’t as life threw me some curve balls and I have been able to change direction through my dabbles several times. Life is also too short don’t you think? Too many exciting things to try. I live in Wales, UK and the welsh word for butterfly is a pili pala, I am proud to be a pili pala and flit from one beautiful project to another from one pili pala to another keep flitting x Pam

  11. shoreacres Says:

    People used to say, “You ought to write a book.” I’d say, “Ummmhmmm…” and let that me the end of it. That long quotation tells me something about why I haven’t. For now, my blogs are enough to maintain that “tenuous connection to the world” of which he speaks.

  12. Barbara Stahler Says:

    Beautiful, Rosemary. I ask myself the same questions & that book sounds like it can help answering them.

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