Ways creatives bring hope and possibility to the world - and what it takes

When I meet people and they find out I'm an artist, I often hear the same responses:

  • "I don't have any artistic talent"

  • "Why do/did you choose a creative profession or this work in particular?"

  • "How did you get to where you are?"

The answers are never simple. I've learned that the journeys of creatives rarely are. I believe that, like everyone, we were told when we were young that our art was poor, self-centered, and/or pointless. Those of us who think of ourselves as creatives simply chose not to believe that. We chose to keep making.

As a social practice artist and creative entrepreneur, I've made all sorts of things and traveled all sorts of roads. I've worked as, with, or for almost all of the categories mentioned in the visual below. Most of the time I've macheted my way through the wilderness, and I'd love to share the beautiful forests I've discovered in the trees.

What I've learned is that no matter what path we take, creative work always requires dedication, discipline, and above all courage. But the path we choose will be fraught with distinct challenges and opportunities. I've described them under three themes below.


Art for art’s sake

Creatives making art for art’s sake create what most people think of as art: paintings, novels, musical compositions, plays, sculptures, performances. Their art provides pleasure and inspiration for all who witness it, and may serve as a financial investment for some patrons.

These artists exercise an expressive freedom that I believe everyone longs to. They pay for this freedom through an often tumultuous journey of sheer faith. The audiences for this art are somewhat small, increasing artists' competition with one another and subsequently the criticism they are all bound to face.

Art for economy’s sake

These are often thought of as commercial artists. In addition to creating countless jobs, they are the source of innovation and problem solving in a wide range of industries, from architecture to cuisine to fashion to technology.

For these creators, their audiences remain at the epicenter of all they create, especially those who reap the most economic benefit from these creations. They regularly face how others interpret their work and must become accustomed to compromise, to not having complete control over the final product or even the co-creative process itself. Furthermore, they are accountable to some degree for the return on investment made by those who fund their activities.

While these artists may experience less financial stress, they may also experience a different kind of stress. Creative work consumes a great amount of energy, so there is less available for one's personal practice. Further, when one is making art to make money, the strain on energy may be more acute.

Art for society’s sake

These artists are certainly the lesser known. They may be artists who create art about social issues, or they may be art educators or therapists, or they may be part of an organization that uses the arts to provide some sort of social service. They may simply be artists who serve on a nonprofit board or government council. Their creativity sparks social transformation.

As this is the road less taken, they may struggle to find adequate direction and support, making their creative journey one of high risk. The tradeoff here is that there is also immense opportunity not only to trailblaze, but to influence others, to make a lasting mark on their community.


As much as I've tried here to simplify the twists and turns of the creative life, I imagine there are only more questions:

  • "Is one of these artists more talented or special than another?"

  • "Is one of these creative paths the right one to follow and another the wrong one?"

  • "Does one have to choose at all? Are they mutually exclusive?"

My personal belief is simple here too: No.

All that matters is that we stay on the path, that we choose to tell ourselves and believe that our art is enough, is important, and is a service to the world. No matter what our road looks or feels like, no matter whether we do it for our own sake or for the sake of others, we must keep choosing to keep making.

This blog was originally published at odessadenver.com.

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