Thursday, January 13, 2011


banners blowing
A question that all of us come to sooner or later is Why?
Why do people make art? Jane Dunnewold asked this is in a blog a few days ago and it set me off cogitating – again! 
I think the answer is definitely part of a wider picture of  what it means to be a human being.  All kids love to play and “make” things but as they grow up some (alas many) get this drive beaten out of them by “education” and passive entertainment and reinforcement for being consumers rather than makers.  If you think about it most  external reinforcement is for consuming and not for making.  Even kids take part in that – many preferring “bought” cake to the home made variety…… but only, I think, because of all the advertising…though I must admit my Dad always preceded his strange homemade buns and cakes by “I made another mistake for your tea”!  (aside: “tea” when I grew up was a meal you ate at 4 o’clock every afternoon and it was lovely!  there were so many more meals back then but even so, obesity was less of a problem).   Thankfully,  some of his “mistakes” were quite successful!  Others were enjoyed by the dog who knew absolutely where to position herself when she heard the word “mistake”!.
But back to Why.  I have not looked up loads of research on this so if someone knows of it – please comment!-  but I think making stuff is because we think a lot and, in our thinking, we ask questions about change.  What if I change this surface?  What if I add this to this?  Would they go together?  Inventiveness has to be linked to survival.  If conditions change, we need to invent a new way of finding food or shelter.  And that’s  just the practical side of things.   So, why do we go beyond that into more decorative?  And by “decorative” I mean merely things to look at rather than things with a particular practical function.  And I find that women more than men (though not of course exclusively)  are concerned about things look.  I don’t know why this is, but I presume it is linked to survival again…the man is primed to act, the woman to observe…the woman sees what needs to be done and the man has the extra strength to do it.   Jane asks why are woman over represented in textile arts, I would say that women and men with a strong feminine side to their way of thinking are over represented in all the arts.  Very masculine men are rarely making art, they’re out there doing or,  at least, watching others doing.  They like to see things moving not how they are.   
We are born with the desire to play and make things.  And as to the medium we use, I think we make things with the tools we have available to us, or that we are encouraged to use – by parents, by society, by teachers.   In some societies it is the men that sew not the women, they were the ones given the needle and thread when they were little. 
After childhood,  some people give up, and others continue, finding the need to create something ever stronger.  Why do they continue?  That’s the real question.   In simplistic terms I think it relates to what effect  either the made object and or the making of the object  has upon us.  What happens when we make it?  Is there a release of the “making desire”?  Is there reinforcement (whether it be internal or external) for the made object?  If you listen to responses to the question Why d’you make art? you will hear both of these things.  Some say “well I get irritable if I’m not making” (desire released), other say “it’s so fulfilling to see something I made hanging in a gallery” (external reinforcement), others reply “I feel good about myself when I’ve made something” (internal reinforcement).
It’s also a matter of time.  In current society there is very little time for play or making things after childhood and it’s not encouraged at all.     When I was a highschooler and university student messing around with paints or thread was considered to be a distraction – “get back to your books!”.  However, as people retire, many of them begin to make things again. And that’s great…for now there is a reason to every day.  Some make for enjoyment, some make because they want to develop a skill – a skill that is so incredibly fulfilling that it will make you joyful for the dawn of every new day.
so ….what d’you think?  why ARE we making these “quilts” that really have no practical use at all??!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS Or, is the real question, why isn't everyone making something?  As human beings I think our default mode originally (before tv, eating out,shopping, bringing work home from the office etc etc) was to be creative and make things.


cyn said...

such a great question. one i ask myself ALL the TIME. my day-to-day life would be so much easier if i could release myself from the need to make art.
i'd have more time to relax, i'd get less friction from family and friends, and i'd probably have more money.
but i would not be happier. i am consumed by the curiosity and fulfillment of pursuing how one idea develops into the next. i do want people to want my work. i do like the idea that my work could outlive me. but mostly, i am obsessed by the making of the work.
for the most part, when a work is finished, i'm done with it. happy to take a few pictures and part with it.
because my heart and mind are completely in what's next? what can develop from those last ideas?
i also love to hear and read what other people think about the creative process. that always gets me inspired to follow their mental muse to see if it collides with mine.
take away artmaking, and my world would be hollow and empty.

Elizabeth Barton said...

thank you for your meaningful and thoughful comment, Cyn - with which I agree wholeheartedly. I find too that I don't make things to Have them, once they're made and have had their couple of weeks of exposure in the one place I can hang a quilt, I'm ready for them to leave home! and the excitement is always in the next one.

Unknown said...

I too make because I need to create. In progress I am obsessed, fiddling with details, playing with color choices, embellishing and adding bits and pieces to the final product. Sometimes one is not enough, and I repeat the theme varying colors or shapes or spacing.

Once the project or series is complete I am happy with it and don't mind finding another home for it.


John'aLee said...

God is the greatest Creator of all and seeing He has made us in His own image...I think we have to create. It keeps us keeps us keeps us hoping.

Really...that is quite a question you posed. Makes one stop and think!

magsramsay said...

I'm both artist and scientist and creativity is all about the process of attempting to understand and relate to the world around me. Usually in fabric for it's tactile quality but sometimes only accurate drawing makes you really look.

Kristin L said...

I was going to add my reasons, but I could just copy and paste what Cyn wrote -- she has summed up my process so well! I think it's some sort of visual question and answer session that is always going on in my head and needs to come out my hands on a regular basis to stay even.

cyn said...

and... one more thing, as this dialog about the burning question of "why" was in my head all day...
many people - especially family - ask me why i can't get that same satisfaction out of my work where i get paid pretty darn well. i do love my work. and my clients. (i do branding and social media PR w clients).

but that's all in a box called "the internet." every step must logically link to the next or you get dead ends and no one pays attention to you. i spend hours every day trying to figure out how translate the free-reigning vision of my clients into the language of the computer screen box.

then when i'm in my studio, there is no box. anything i can conceive, i can pursue, leaping from one place to the next, sometimes coming back to connect ideas, sometimes not. right now i'm working on a project that is very detailed and complicated, yet it's all falling together as if it has always existed and simply been waiting for me to realize my role in it.

that is the closest thing to freedom that i can live... that sense that i am being led effortlessly to participate in something that is bigger and more complete than i am. it's like a thread that i could pull my entire life and never reach the end of.

ok... i'll stop squatting on your blog now! LOL!

you just always seem to hit a note that resonates with me. :)

Anna C Warren said...

This is a wonderful question and one that I admittedly ponder on occasionally. I think in a way we have been hard wired to want to spend time making these objects whether they be quilts, paintings, hand woven articles because it was such a necessity for so many generations. Now that it's cheaper and easier to just pop over to the nearest discount shop and buy it people aren't having to spend the time.

I think this also coincides with the amount of time and money spent on meditation classes and learning how to relax. I personally find my work very meditative (when it is going as it supposed to) and therefor have no need to spend time trying to sit still, which never seemed to work for me. The extra bonus is the feeling of satisfaction when I complete a project.

Unknown said...

I love color. I love texture. I love to make, view and hold beautiful things. I want to share. I want to make a statement.

I love playing with paint and thread...I love the feel of paint on a surface. I love to run my fingers over the texture of what I've wrought.
Lisa Quintana

Elsie Montgomery said...

I agree with John'aLee's comment. We are built to create. I've thought about the reasons for why we make "useless" quilts, and wonder also -- does the sky have to be blue or do flowers need to be in all colors! Making things and standing back and saying, "It is good" is like God (Genesis 1) and I'd like to think that He enjoys our creativity even more than we do!

Patty said...

Wow! fun to read. I am, perhaps, a "masculine" woman--not gay, happily married to a man, but not very interested in how I look or in decorating. I do appreciate pretty and interesting things. But I also do not have very good fine motor control. I wonder if the two are related. I am more likely to build things than to sew by hand. In both knitting and sewing (which I like), I am not very creative in the sense that I prefer to follow specific instructions rather than go out on my own. Hmm. It takes all kinds.

Kerry said...

Elizabeth...I like the rest of these ladies need that creative outlet...need to get lost in color ...and like you...I then set them free to create again...Your Blog is probably my favorite to read...I read in the morning and then flag it and think all day...and then's struck a chord in that just last night one of my pals in art quilting asked me what I wanted to do with it all and I thought about keeping creativity alive in children and allowing them the tools to carry from childhood TO retirement and not leave that uncreative gap in life...

Keep up the jump start a lot of others!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Oh I'm very happy to have squatters in my bloghouse!! Please stay on! I do think the creative vein is there (often untapped) in almost woman and child but life's circumstances have lead people
to doubt its existence,
to demean it,
to feel that if you're not Number One you're no good,
to have too little time
not sure about men!!! ;)

Jackie said...

Here are a few of my thoughts: I seem to see the world in a different way, noticing light and shadows, appreciating specific aspects of rising and setting sun, for example, on the way windows of houses on a hillside reflect light. When I'm working, deeply engaged, I am transported to another plane, like meditation. Finally, I create because my work completes something in me that is absent when I'm not working. Maybe it's an opportunity to exercise my unique vision that doesn't have a place anywhere else in my life. It feels very good to design and create a piece, complete it and move on to yet another. Undoubtedly, my art will continue to evolve and that direction cannot be foreseen. All of I can speak of is my happy present. Thank you for the wonderful, ponder-able questions you ask.

Mary Beth Frezon said...

About says it all