Blog / 2012 / Why Are You an Artist?

July 25, 2012

My “why” has changed in the last 15 years. When I was in high school, I really related to Ani DiFranco’s concept of art. In her “Out of Habit,” she sings:

“Art is why I get up in the morning, but my definition ends there.”

Something about the defensive simplicity of that statement spoke to me. And something about the explanation for being an artist folding into the compulsion I felt for making art made it easier to overlook the more difficult questions, things like “how can I make art that matters to the people around me?” and “what’s the point of art anyway?”

painting of gecko
Gwenn Seemel
Self-replicating (Bynoe’s Gecko)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches

It wasn’t until later that I learned to scrub those hard-to-reach areas of the artist’s psyche, and, when I did, it was a college course in French philosophy—a course which I hated almost as much as the Gen Ed requirement Philosophy 101—that gave me my answer. Somewhere in his Essays, Michel de Montaigne says:

“Life is but movement.”

The wistful nihilism and sense of randomness wrapped up in that quote resonated with my own ideas about just how small we are in the universe, but it lacked something too. I remember correcting Montaigne in my text, inserting a key word with a carrot:

“Life is but beautiful movement.”

wildlife painting by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Self-replicating (Bynoe’s Gecko)

I can’t help but thinking that, in art as in life, if you’re not enjoying yourself—not delighting in really experiencing touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight—you’re getting it wrong. Because if you don’t appreciate beauty, you’re probably bored, boring, and a big jerk.

I’m an artist because being an artist is the practice of searching for beauty where others might overlook it and showing that beauty to the world. I’m an artist because I refuse to be bored, boring, and a big jerk; I’m an artist because I don’t think anyone should have to be bored, boring, and a big jerk.

Why are you an artist?

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