Exploring why we make art

I have recently finished reading the book, Live through this: On creativity and self-destruction (Chapadjiev, 2008). It’s a book made up of twenty-one essays by female artists describing how their art making was used to survive and process various traumas and self-destructive behaviors. There was a lot about this book that I wanted to share with my students, but it seemed to me to be a little heavy to give them directly. I wanted to have the conversation about how art could be used to process complex emotions, but I felt, for lack of a better term, that a class long discussion on using art to process depression/trauma/addiction would be a bit of a downer. At the same time, I have students that are now, or someday will be facing these issues and might need to use their art making as a remedy.

I decided to approach the topic as part of a broader discussion on why we make art. I came up with a variety of reasons artists create that I commonly come across. I organized some good examples of this into a presentation and discussed it with my Advanced Placement Studio Art students. The reasons for art making we discussed were as follows:

Art about Art

Art as Social Change

Art as Invoking the Sacred

Art as Documentation

Art as Personal Exploration

I made an audio recording of the conversation, which I then edited into a video. That can be found at this Video.

I ended the video just before the moment the students began discussing their own art. This conversation became a little too personal to share publicly.   One of my students shared about how her personal traumas influenced her art making. Another discussed how she had made work exploring the spiritual nature of the infinite universe.  A few select quotes from the conversation are as follows:

“My last piece, it had stuff that I am uncomfortable being open with, but I do it anyways because it helps me cope.”

“I guess this is going to sound weird but I like painting about the hard stuff because it helps a lot having it laid down on the paper and being out there without having to explain it or what to explain why I did it. [It’s] like when you do a math problem right, you can’t, like when it’s really, really long and you can’t do it in your head you’ve got to write it out, lay it down on the paper, and figure everything out and then you finally find your solution and that’s what it is for like painting about your problems.”

This was a great conversation, and a lot came from it. I did not assign a project specifically after this conversation, I just used it as a catalyst to help my students think deeper about the reasons they make art.

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