Why Do We Make Stuff?

So on Monday I was talking about what I’d do if I were magic, how I’d be invisible and hang out in people’s studios and watch what happens when they get An Idea. And then I got to wondering why it is that we make stuff in the first place. I’ve talked to scores of artists over the years, and I’ve heard lots of reasons when individual people make what they make. Some of them do it because they need money. Some do it because they’re not able to work outside their home. Some do it because they’ve discovered something to make that other people love and are willing to pay for. Those are all perfectly logical reasons to make stuff, whether it’s stuff made out of paint and canvas or stuff made out of porcelain or stone or yarn.

Then there’s the more intriguing answer, the one that begs the question and makes you want to know more: “Because I have to. I can’t not make stuff.” A lot of the artists I’ve talked to have told me that the reason they make whatever it is that they make is because they can’t not do it. If they don’t—if they try to stop or if they’re forced to quit for a period of time—it feels like they’re strangling or suffocating or drying up. They get grouchy. They can’t sleep. They watch too much daytime tv. Maybe eat just a tiny bit too much ice cream while watching old movies on Netflix. You know.

But why? Why do we feel compelled to make stuff? It’s not that there’s a shortage of stuff in the world. You know, like there’s nothing to look at and it’s our job to make something visually appealing. It’s not that there’s a ton of money to be made at Making Stuff, so we quit the job we love in order to cash in on the huge market for wearable art or art journals.

For some people, it’s the act of taking nothing and putting it together into something cool, however we define “cool” (what’s fabulous to us might not be fabulous to someone else, as I learned the first time I showed my mother a voodoo doll I’d just made, one that had taken hours and hours of hand sewing tiny beads). For others, it’s that these Ideas are in their heads and won’t go away and keep poking at them until they have no choice but to get in there and see if they can bring it to life. You know, the ones that spark all those questions: What if? Will this work? Can I do this with this? What about. . . .?

For others, it’s the challenge of seeing if they can bring to life this amorphous thing they have in their brain, this fuzzy kind of outline-ish idea that they need to bring out and make real.

So what is it for you? Why do you make stuff, and why do you make the specific stuff you make? And if you could make anything at all, what would it be? Tell us, please~~

Cover_U2959.inddFor more ideas, inspiration and techniques check out Seth Apter’s book The Mixed-Media Artist.

 

 
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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2 Responses to Why Do We Make Stuff?

  1. My mind is always working. Which is why I always carry a sketchbook in my bag when I travel. If I am not making art I truly don’t feel fully alive. Without the studio or making art my house gets too clean, and I have discovered it’s better to channel my creative energy to art making activities rather than polishing the coffee table for the 14th time in one day.

  2. Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

    Exactly!

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