Group Discussion: What Makes You Continue To Create?

This post contains excerpts from creative people (italics), with my responses, from a discussion I began on LinkedIn in the group, True Artist: Living The Art (edited for clarity). Part 1 of 3.


“What makes you, the artist, continue to create? What end result is so satisfying that it draws you in continuously? Are results where the momentum comes from anyway?”


“My art is very unique. It is energetic and full of life. Disco music is my muse. I want to capture the same energy as when one would walk into to the disco in the late 70’s–the lights, music and love. I lost so many friends throughout the years through out the AIDS crisis. Life is SO short. Live life to the fullest–DANCE. In 2000, I started taking ART classes to support my income; like SO many I was and am dealing with a financial crisis where wages are stagnate, factories are closing, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer as the middle class fades away, as I take out my records and pull out my paints and blank canvas and see what emerges.” A.A.

“Financial insecurity” is, I believe, how Anne Truitt put it–that it prompted her to continue on in the face of uncertainty. I know artist’s are often forced to turn to other means of making money, rather than doing their art, to pay the bills. It’s a difficult thing and each of us must work it out in our own way I think. And “what” we do artistically can also be dictated by finances; I don’t know if this is really an unfortunate thing because it has made me a better artist–caused me to work harder at the craft side of art making which frees me up on the creative side.

I guess inspiration comes in many forms and interesting how we respond differently, artistically, to events, like the Expressionist’s to the difficult political environment at the time, or how you chose to respond positively, with music, to tragic or difficult events.

How much of what you do is a conscious, deliberate attempt to be positive, or is it more a reaction, I wonder?”

For me, painting is a spiritual journey. My work emerges from my consciousness and as in meditation, I am present in the moment. I paint and create out of love, emotion and personal desire rather than commerce.” I.M.

“Sometimes I wonder why I continue. I get all excited when things are really going well–the brush strokes, the colors, the composition, the connection of body, paint, brain–everything, then I think I am getting somewhere. When I look at the work the next day, I wonder why I got all excited, because then I am usually disappointed. I cannot bear these up and down feelings, but still, I don’t stop.” M.G.

“For myself, as it appears from I.M., the answer’s pretty straightforward. Art is simply an integral form of personal expression. Not to exercise it would be to volunteer to remain mute.” M.T.

“Commerce and spirituality–bed fellows do not make. “In the moment”–It really is like meditation–when thought (I would say “worry”) is transcended (for lack of a better word) by the moment. I wonder if this comes more naturally for an abstract painter; my mind is still darted with all the conventions of picture-making I’ve learned as I work.

I.M.’s “personal desire” and M.T.’s “volunteer to remain mute” are insightful to me as they note a personal, rational choice, i.e., I choose to do art. I can’t help but think of the psychoanalyst’s idea that we humans choose to be angry or choose to be depressed (as opposed to some external event causing us to feel a certain way and, with the assumption that happiness/contentment is the natural state of a person)–that somewhere deep inside, the child that still lives in every adult makes choices based on events from the adults childhood. Point being, we don’t recognize it as a choice.

This may be way off the mark though from what’s been said here. I speak from personal experience that when I don’t work for a while there grows a strong desire to express, as M.T. said. So I think I’m saying it is a choice and a necessity, or is the “necessity”, in reality, a choice. The reasoning’s become very complicated I think, what drives us to paint, to express.

Green Boat And Sea by MTMcClanahan

Green Boat And Sea by MTMcClanahan

And M.G., your words are so refreshing, to the point and heartfelt; it takes great courage to be so honest I think. And I can relate to your plight personally as I would dare say most who attempt to create could. Your comments remind me of Anne Truitt’s in her “Daybook”–the book has always inspired me with its fresh honesty (I gave my copy away but wrote many of her words in a journal, as you can see from my response to A.A.).

But still, I don’t stop’–I will write that one down too. Expression, it seems from all the comments, is a demanding friend for some, a shoulder to lean on maybe, a confidant?”

“The end result is typically satisfying to someone other than myself–I am never entirely happy with the result; I just tell myself to stop to avoid overworking it. I think my momentum comes from the curiosity of how far I can challange myself and what it will look like in the end and how it may touch someone else more deeply.” A.H.

“In my case it is not the end result, it is the process. It is like a journey of discoveries. When I start a new piece, what moves is curiosity to see what can be done and where the original sketch/ idea will take me. The final result, piece, object is an independent creature which I get to know. But in my case that may be due to the ceramic process–the work goes to kiln to get fired and transformed to come out as a new creature (creature and sculpture, I like this term, another artist invented it, this year’s winner of Catlin price to be more precise).” M.L.

“True artist, title of this group, I don’t know if I can fit in that definition, but for sure I am literally “living the art” in the sense that I make a living with it. Personally I am not searching for anything of superior essence when I paint, I just manipulate the matter honestly the best I can with a good mental disposition. My pleasure does not come from the “myself-alone-with-the-artpiece” relationship. I start to get excited from the moment the gallerist has a commission for me and places the order, then the artistic adventure goes all the way through the actual painting process to the delivery of it and me waiting for the client’s news of his/her satisfaction. When I decide to paint because I have a special idea in my head, there is always the dream of reaching some goal behind that.” A.S.

“A.S., on “superior essence”–as sensitive as my wife says I am I’ve always had trouble identifying with the spiritual side of art. Maybe that’s why I majored in Illustration. I use to absolutely love the feeling of getting a new assignment so I think I know what you mean with commissions. I think I’ve developed performance anxiety or something because commissions are a struggle for me now, though I do accept them.

There is the idea that spirituality/essence should flow naturally from being emmersed in the process. I end up with contrivances when I try hard to say something more than what I see.

A.H., I can relate to your feelings of debilitation. I say to myself, what are the rewards of not doing, of not trying, this helps me. “To keep my mind and soul sane”, it really is that deep, nothing creative is superficial.

And A.H., to see my work the way someone else sees it would be quite wonderful (your previous statement about others being more satisfied). This also goes back to my accertion that Illustration is an art, because you have to train yourself to see what others are seeing. I’m not good at that.

Yes, yes M.L., it is the journey; why can’t I convince myself of that, why do I get so caught up in the end product and work and work and over work the same piece!?”

I like the idea of a “new creature”. It is interesting how we give birth to these creations , they are so a part of us (maybe that’s why I over work) and then, at some point, they become their own. I think some have an easier time letting go than others. I’ve never had a problem moving on, once I move on; ONCE I move on. Sometimes I get stuck.

That’s the secret!–letting go is how we grow. It rhynms so it must be so! I’ll stop. But it’s true, letting go is HOW we continue on isn’t it, it is the machine of the journey.”

“I remember a remark that de Kooning made when a guest at his studio asked “what is it?” his reply “i don’t know it kind of looks like a couch.” That statement set me free and showed me just how little control I really have. It’s the energy of doing it that’s important. It’s that energy that unites me with my surroundings, with the paint and other materials, with the process – it’s what brings joy. The out-come is almost none of my business. As M.L. said, it’s a journey.” I.M.

“I would like to express my opinion on being a fashionable artist. There is a widespread school of thought among art teachers, some at large intelligentsia and unfortunately also artists that assert a certain stereotype of painting (as well as sculpting) to be the good one. It seems as though if you paint with sketchy, rough brushstrokes, represent reality distorted and blurry then you are better off at conveying special contents, messages, emotions etc. The result is that plenty of artists paint in the same way around the world and you confuse them very easily with one another. The phenomenon of absorbing the style of one’s era has happened other times in history, but there’s always been someone new who revolutionized things with a breakthrough. Personally I wish I could do something new, but maybe I am too lazy or not brilliant enough or simply I have too many bills to pay…” A.S.

“Well put, Andrea!” M.G.

“I can work well on my paintings when it,s exciting to make them, don’t know the result before, that’ s keep me going.” W.K.

“The out-come is almost none of my business.” I.M., you have inspired me”

“A.S., I completely agree with you, I sometimes feel that whilst people assume all abstract work has hidden depths and meaning, paintings which are realistic are assumed to be one dimensional. I know in my case that’s not true, it just takes more time to see beyond the obvious. Sorry to go off topic. To go back to topic – what keeps me painting is that I am never totally satisfied with the outcome. When I do something that I think has merit, I need to carry on to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. M.T., I also have a love/hate relationship which commissions. They can be very restrictive and demanding (the work and the clients) but they also keep you grounded and make you stop and take a breath.” C.M.

“I came across this from artist Richard Diebenkorn…’Notes to myself on beginning a painting:
1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued–except as a stimulus for further moves.
3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don’t “discover” a subject–of any kind.
6. Somehow don’t be bored–but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.” I.M.

“Creating Art, like any other form of creative activity is inner motivated. You do it not because of outside influence, which by the way, is the surest way to dampen creativity. Do what you got to do, the reward is the process of creation and success is self expression.” R.V.

“I have gone back and forth and around and around on this point. I think it is just a need to communicate. I think that what an artist provides to their society is the view of someone who takes the time to look, feel and think about their environment. This has not always been the role of an artist (I think it’s the role of an artist in a post-modern capitalist society, which moves very quickly and denies reflection and intense emotional connection). Artists are those who choose to live in that situation, yet still work slowly enough to look and think. They offer their observations, criticisms, joyful indicators and objects of beauty to the rest in hope of maintaining what is good (relative term) and repairing what is rotten (again, relative to the individual (i.e. personal expression). What keeps one working is a SINCERE belief in what one feels needs to be communicated to the society at large. Just a thought…” M.B.

“That may be the cruxt of it all Michael–“a need to communicate”. Which follows closely with Roy’s “Do what you got to do”. Maybe that’s the cruxt of all human endeavor.

The reward is the process of creation and success is self expression.” I thought that one was worth repeating; very nice.

W.K., so you thrive on uncertainty; I should take a lesson from you. That is quite freeing–goes back to the ideas expressed about the place of the “results” or finished product. Seems to be a theme developing here.

And C.M. I do agree, I don’t think one can be the best at their craft without being grounded. I interpret that to mean it keeps you honest about the craft part of it–keeps you “practiced” if you will, on a first name basis with your materials and so on. This seems to relate to what you said to A.S., don’t know if that was on purpose.”

“M.T., exactly :)” C.M.

“Exactly, I start without any idea, I concentrate on making nice spots, colours , and also using papers and when there is coming a certain atmosphere I look for pictures I can use for  finishing the painting. And I.M., thanks for the 10 points of Diebenkorn, I like them.” W.K.

Part 2 / Part 3

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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