Creativity Required

When I began making images, it was entirely selfish. I wanted to have control over my creativity, I wanted to see how much I could learn. I enjoyed the process and soon I learned that I wanted a career. Half a year into creating, I knew that photography was becoming a much larger portion of my life than pure selfishness would allow. I wasn’t only creating for myself, I was creating for others.

For all of my creative adulthood I’ve been told by professors, other creatives, friends, etc., that you should ALWAYS create for yourself and not for others. After all, the hallmark of an Artist (with a capital A, of course), is that they create because they are compelled, because they have the muse within them, because they must.

As I became more motivated by creating for others, I started to wonder: Does that make me less of an artist? Does that mean I’m selling out?

[Which, if you’ll allow this side-note, I am DONE with the word “sellout”. Way too often we use that word to describe other people we are jealous of. Or a situation we don’t understand. Sometimes it is applicable, but it is too negative to fit into my vocabulary. End side-note.]

It took me years to reconcile these questions. And it took me years to train myself to create for the right reasons.
[Ie: Not the social media attention. We’re being honest here.]

Recently I was at an event where I was chatting with someone I would see occasionally at such events. Our conversation really stuck with me. This person praised me for really creating art for myself. I countered by explaining that I actually really love creating for others, too, and that a big motivating factor in my creation process is wanting to make something someone else will be touched by. I’ll never forget the look they gave me that was surprise mixed with a bit if disgust.

Reading between the lines, the word sellout formed in the air.

We had a discussion then about what it means to create for others vs. yourself, and there was a definite feeling that if you are a real artist, you create for yourself. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered that way of thinking. I used to believe in it vehemently myself.

And, let’s be honest – I benefit tremendously from my art. On a personal level, of course, by feeling fulfilled and working my imagination. Financially, by affording a house. Energetically, by setting my own schedule. Spiritually, by traveling and learning about new cultures. My art is selfish in those ways, and I don’t want to trade that in.

But I would be lying if I said that I would have created everything that I’ve created if it was purely selfish. I am motivated by how much we can change the world through our actions. There are days when I didn’t want to create but the thought of who I might touch roused me into creative motion. If that sounds delusional, or self-centered, let me say two things:

  1. It took me a long time to develop enough self-esteem to love my art and believe in the power one individual has to change the world.
  2. I have witnessed how impactful art is for people, from fellow Americans in my workshops to girls in India who have never witness art like that, who understand the stories I’m telling even though our circumstances are radically different. I’ve seen art heal.

I think back often to 2009 when I had just started creating and I removed an image from the Internet because it didn’t have enough likes. Then my friend emailed asking where that image was, and I told her I removed it, and she told me I shouldn’t have because it brought her such peace after having a miscarriage.

I remember hearing from someone that they were going to take their own life, but after seeing an image of mine, they felt understood and didn’t go through with it.

These are stories I hear too often. And I’m not the only one. I’m not trying to insinuate that my imagery has magical healing powers. I’m not even trying to say that it is special in the grand scheme of the world. Who knows.

What I am saying is this: What we do with our time will touch the lives of others. We might as well create with the greatest impact for good.

That doesn’t mean what you create has to be cookie-cutter if you don’t want. My images are WEIRD, CREEPY, and UNSETTLING for many. Sometimes, most of the time, it is those exact qualities that resonate.

I remember being told for the first time, but absolutely not the last, that my work has no place in the art market. That no one would want to hang what I create on their walls. Whoever dares to tell an artist that doesn’t understand humanity. There is something out there for everyone. Right now, there is someone in the world who will benefit from seeing your art. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, how weird it is, or how normal. Someone out there needs you. Period.

1) Do you believe you have the
power to change the world for the better?

2) What value do you believe your art adds to the world?

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:16 am

    Alan Baily - First an aside. This is the first time I have written my website address for anybody.

    Question 1. I absolutely feel that I have the power to change the world. It may not be with my artwork as my life has many facets. I may feel like I am tilting at windmills but I feel compelled to act.

    Question 2. I’m not sure it is up to me to decide what value my art, and any of my actions in the world, has. I do what I do and let other people decide how it affects them. Once art is created and put out into the world, I have no control over how it is received.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:26 am

    Sabrina-M - I’m one of those people who create for myself in the first place. It helps me a lot with dealing with my depressions i had for years. Since I started making art slowly the depressions disappeared. Now I create to ventilate my feelings which I can’t express otherwise. It helps me to deal with my asperger.
    The strange thing is that most people who like my art or connect to it in some way always say to me that they first likes my art (I can assure you not everyone likes it and that’s fine) and then they read my bio and are surprised that I’m open on the fact that I have asperger and they themselves have it or their kids. So for some kind of reason it attracts.
    It doesn’t only attract them they often tell me it helps them to vision their inner feelings, and that’s the biggest compliment I could get I think.
    So yes, art can make the world better, it’s makes people see things form a different perspective. What’s the value of my own art in the world? Well lets not talk about the whole world but if I can make if it’s just one person feel better that’s my ultimate achievement.

    • February 23, 2018 - 7:47 am

      Kathryn - Your work is really beautiful. It has a real sense of hope amongst feelings of being enclosed.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:33 am

    Kathryn - Firstly, I’d love to hang your art on my walls! You always have my love and support for your work. I believe everyone has the power to change the world, you just have to be passionate about the solution (future) rather than the problem (past). I’m at a crossroads to bring meaning to my work. I very much hope my new ventures will bring strength and healing to the soul as well as bring inner beauty to the forefront.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:59 am

    Tim Stephens - Yes to all of this post, Brooke! I believe that for art to make the world a better place the artist must see and acknowledge it’s faults. So coming from a place of privilege, as a white male in a prosperous country, the work I create that is important to me can’t help but be for others, whether the few or the many. I will also say that creating *with* others – participating in the creative dance – is equally important to me. When used judiciously, collaboration adds to the relevance and meaning of the finished work. And the work becomes more than the sum of it’s parts.

    And an unequivocal, resounding, “Yes!” to the belief that any individual, me included, has the power to change the world. I firmly believe we can’t *help* but change the world *every day*, either by intention or by accident. When we engage with intent, that’s when the magic happens. When we create art, we may say, “Here is something beautiful about our world. Recognize it and seek it.” Or we may say, “Here is where the world is broken. Recognize it and fix it.” And when we do it well it triggers an inner dialogue with the viewer that results in an aha moment. And when we do it best that dialogue is triggered over and over as the viewer grows and matures. (That’s why it’s so important to actually own art, not just see it, say “Wow, cool!” and then leave it behind. But that’s another comment for a different post. 😉

    #2 is harder. What value to I believe my art adds to the world? Other than at the highest levels I really have no idea. And I likely will never truly know if I was successful or not. But that’s OK. I guess I mostly hope it starts a conversation about things to easily ignored – both within and between individuals. I hope it makes people reflect on the past and the future and see the present for what it is – an opportunity to accept our agency in life and make the most of it.

    Thanks, Brooke, for an especially lovely post that made me stop and think! I am so excited for your trip to Greece!! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 9:38 am

    Rachel Strickland - 1. YES.

    2. At the very least, permission.

    Short and sweet. Love your work.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 10:17 am

    Samuel DiPaola - I totally agree with this post, Brooke. Thank you for it. I think most artist start by creating for themselves, but then when the art is release out into the world it takes on a life of its own. I’ve definitely experienced this with both my photography and with my writings over the years. I am always surprised when I get comments on specific pieces that I didn’t think merited the response. Don’t get me wrong, I only post what I feel is my best work, but even then I do have my favorites, and I am always surprised by what actually gets comments compared to the pieces that I thought would get comments. I read somewhere that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because he needed the money and thought it was just a fluff piece. He never anticipated what would become of it. So, I think whether we create for ourselves or for the public, it doesn’t really matter because once it is released into the public domain it will always become something other than what we intended and therefore can potentially change the world.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 10:31 am

    Louise Hill - #1. Yes, I do and hope that my images can provoke some emotional attachment by stirring up memories and drawing the viewer into my artwork.

    #2. Of course, I create for others and not only for myself. I might not be conscious at that time which way I am doing it but in the end, I can see how I have been influenced.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 12:53 pm

    Denise Neale Jensen - Beautifully said Dear Brooke. Your words are as powerful as your art. Thank you for the morning ‘Kickstart’. Reminds me of an image I created of a horse in surreal lighting. I had a Picture Framer criticize the reality of the piece when I went to pick it up at their shop. I was surprised that he seemed so outspoken and almost irritated by it. However this same image later promoted a stranger to reach out to me. She was the mother of a young autistic girl who upon seeing my image suddenly verbally communicated for the first time. Her Mother wanted me to know this and that whenever her daughter gets distressed they pull up my image on the computer to calm her. Point being, art is powerful, and if it comes from your heart you can become an open channel to all kinds of responses. Carry on working for yourself to draw up the magic, and know it will find its purpose for others, and that’s a good thing, others count too.ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 7:16 pm

    Ava Peterson - Oh yes I hope so!!! And as far as value, I can share from my side of the lens, what my mind sees in the beauty of creation. The world is moving so fast that many don’t take time to “see” the goodness that “is” around us, even if they are in the dark. They might find value in that but it’s really up to them to find it. ReplyCancel

  • February 23, 2018 - 9:34 pm

    Gallagher (Fit BMX) - I normally create for myself, but the best feeling in the world is when someone says they were not having a bad day, but when they read my post it helped them. That makes you feel so great!
    And to be honest, if making art for the pure reason of making others feel better makes me a “Sell-out”, then I am more than happy to be a “Sell-out”!

    Great post!ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2018 - 4:06 am

    Ellen - Great post. Absolutely,I feel like my art can change the world. For if art doesn’t evoke a emotional response did we as artists really do our job? One of my favorite pieces that I created is called “Tears For Our Mother” because I was feeling so bad for Mother Earth. I created it to heal my soul and hoped it helped others stop and think. People tell me all the time how it makes them feel. Is it technically a wonderful piece of art? No, but it strikes a cord with people and makes them stop and think and to me that’s important. Right now I am creating art about climate change, I want to make people take notice and maybe change in little ways. Thank You for posting this.ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2018 - 9:43 am

    Moon - I don’t usually contribute to blogs but I liked what you wrote and your work and I enjoyed what others have shared.

    I believe that if someone gains a small amount of pleasure from looking at one of my images then that in itself changes their, and thus the, world for the better.

    I’m not sure my art adds any value to the world, and to be honest, I don’t care. If it does that’s great, if it doesn’t, thats okay. The important thing is that the process of producing it adds value to my world.ReplyCancel

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