The artist says, “There are piles and piles of people around who are telling me that “Oh, you should talk about Why you do your work so people can connect with it!” and that is completely useless advice to me. I mean, I get what they’re saying, but I can’t do it!”
The alchemist says Why is that?
“Because I do my work because I want to. I have to! I can’t not do it. And that won’t connect with anybody, anywhere. “Selfish Artist Makes Art For Herself”? Stop the presses. They have a reason to buy my art, but it has nothing at all to do with why I make it. So I can’t possibly talk about my Why.”
Ah, I see. Let us change the topic then. What is your art?
Well, recently I’ve been working on a series of violets forged out of bronze.
Interesting. Why that particular piece?
“I’ve been playing around with the ideas of beauty and fragility for awhile. I mean, I think it’s seriously fucking stupid how we’ve gotten this idea in our heads that beautiful equals fragile. And fragile, of course, means that other people have power over you. (‘Cos, you know, they can break you.) So there’s this weird dynamic that beautiful things and people have power because of their beauty, but at the same time they have less power because we think they’re not strong.”
And so these pieces…
“Are about how strength and beauty are not mutually exclusive.”
Ah. The alchemist sits silently for a time, plaiting one long strand of greyblack hair with rice bells.
Then the alchemist paints an ostrich egg with gold paint and vermilion and puts it in a cauldron.
Then the alchemist sits down again.
The artist swears calmly and admiringly, at some length.
“You just told me my Why, didn’t you.”
I don’t believe so. I think you told me.
The moral of the story
For a long time, I got this wrong with my clients. (Anyone who struggled through it with me, I apologise. It was a hard question, and I hadn’t quite gotten it yet.)
I get it now.
Artists, crafters, serial entrepreneurs… we create because we must.
Because it brings us joy. Because it makes us better people. Because you just. Gotta. Dance. Because it makes your world brighter. Because otherwise we’d go mad.
This is entirely, beautifully selfish, and thus not very interesting to talk about. It isn’t a useful way to connect with the people who want what we have to offer. (They’re glad you groove on your work. But this is all about me, man!)
However. There is a reason why, out of the ten thousand thousand possible projects, there is a reason why we made this one.
Your Why is not about Why you create.
Your Why is about what you choose to create.
You create jewellery with hammered silver skulls. Why? Because we now live in a world where we are almost entirely divorced from death, and it’s made us morbid.
You write poems about Nazis in love. Why? Because human nature is beautiful and wretched, often at the same time.
You create websites with huge textured images. Why? Because technology doesn’t need to be cold and impersonal.
The rabbit hole may be longer than that.
You run a website that reviews different types of vitamins and makes money from affiliate links. Why?
Because I couldn’t stand my job any more and I wanted to see the kids grow up.
Why did you start this particular business?
Because I went to a seminar on passive-income businesses.
Why did you go to that seminar?
Because I really liked the brochure. It said, “Making Money Doesn’t Have to Suck”.
Why did that appeal to you?
Because a lot of the time, we make things harder than they need to be. The vitamin thing is the same – we don’t review super-specialised complicated vitamins, we make it easy for people to choose one that they can just take once a day and go.
Why is that the best approach?
Because life doesn’t have to be hard.
This wasn’t an accident.
Give ten people a blank page and a pen, and they’ll draw ten very different things. An elephant. A dripping tap. An axe murderer.
You make choices on where to concentrate your formidable creative talents.
And those choices reveal your Why.
A little less conversation, a little more action…
What are the pervasive themes of your work?
What topics do you keep returning to?
Why did you create this particular thing?
Dig out your Why and get it to work!