Why Do Artists Share Their Work? June 2021 Issue 2
by Nancy Coleman
A couple of issues ago, we examined why artists make art and why others want to see it, with the promise of galloping down this twisty road to examine why artists want to share their work, once it’s made. It may sound like a simple question with an easy answer, but if you knew how, um, sensitive most artists are, you wouldn’t be so quick to fill in the blank.
First off, what do we mean by “sensitive”? Well, a lot of people think artists are reclusive because we may put up an invisible shell to protect ourselves from the vagaries of the world. Others see artists as way too open—dramatic, chatty, and tell-all —which behavior may be another kind of barrier for protection. That sensitivity which is considered typical for artists in general, connotes that we are quick to detect and respond to slight variations in the world and people around us. We feel those variations more deeply than others do. For example, artists absorb comments made about ourselves and our work more readily, and can be flung inadvertently into an emotional abyss by casual negative or thoughtless remarks.
So why, then, do artists take the risk and show their work at all? Why nail it up in galleries, post it on Instagram, share on Face Book, populate blogs with it, or send out emails to an invisible and potentially cruel world? We asked a few artists from our gallery about this, and then a few more around Puget Sound, and after reading Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland and also Creativity, Flow and The Psychology of Discovery And Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi, got all introspective...and here’s what we have come up with.
We’re not trying to push sales here, honestly, but this is one of the answers that came up frequently. Most artists don’t make enough income off their work to earn even a scant, minimal living, and most of us would make art even if we didn’t sell anything. The truth is, whatever artists can earn from their work gets invested right back into art supplies or otherwise supports our creative habit.
To feel connected
Admit it or not, artists are humans too. One of the most crucial aspects of the human condition is feeling connected to the Universe and to other humans. Sharing is an intrinsic way to feel like we’re a part of a community, and we are contributing to its well-being or awareness.
To BE connected
This is slightly different than feeling connected. Being connected, for an artist, means being part of a group that is supportive or at least acknowledges the artist for who they are. It’s essential for mental health. And, more often than not, it’s the main way for an artist to become successful in our domain because it’s very often through connections that we get a show, are invited to participate in a school or group, hear about a competition, or learn the latest online tool to get the word out.
To expand a universe of friendships
Not everyone in one’s community is necessarily a friend and even those who aren’t exactly friends, may be important. But the most significant ones are the real friends. Friends hear us. They see us. They examine our work with an open mind and interested eye. They tell us the truth, maybe with a little more kindness than others might, and they are that hand at our back when we need the support or the shove. Being part of an art community that exhibits together whether in an actual space or online, establishes and develops these friendships in a focused way.
To push oneself to be more creative, and to produce more
Once an artist gets into the groove of sharing, we have pretty much built an internal expectation that we will keep producing new works so that we can continue to get the rush from posting or hanging the new stuff. It’s like mainlining. It’s scary when you are out of new ideas, but feels really good when you’re satisfied with that new piece, and feels great when you’re delighted with it.
For creative/emotional acknowledgement
Maybe this point should be at the head of the list. Any human would have to be at least a little stunted if they didn’t want acknowledgment for who they are, what they do, and for their expressions. And because of the sensitivity factor described above, artists need this maybe a little more than most. If you are not an artist, you probably have no idea how much a kind (and authentic) word means to them about their work, or how deeply satisfying it is when they see someone take an interest. If you want to test out this hypothesis, just ask a few questions of an artist about their work and you’ll likely see them light up.
To feel “real”
So much of an artist’s sense of identity is wrapped up with their work. And having work hidden away in a studio closet or garage or inside a hard drive doesn’t validate one’s existence. Putting it out there makes us feel like we really exist, and if we think it’s good work, it makes us feel worthy.
While making art is work that requires discipline, effort, focus and time, when it works, it feels good... and then it’s play. Sharing can be a fun part of the game especially because though it all takes work, we get to curate (choose) which ones out of all that effort we are going to share.
To get rid of works so they don’t stack up in the studio storage area
Yup. Hope is a good thing.
Makes one work harder to achieve the best quality possible
If an artist knows they aren’t going to share something with others, too often the piece doesn’t get finished in the same way. Corners might be cut. Detail might be overlooked. Fixes that take time might be avoided altogether. Indeed, the work might get to a challenging level and then relegated to the Finish Later pile that somehow never again sees the light of day.
Gives artists a way to think about our work from another’s point of view
When artists are sharing, we can’t help but wonder how others are going to see the work, wonder what it will make others think of and how it will make them feel, etc. This curiosity about the Other Point of View spurs much more internal openness in engaging with our own art, and helps us to get past our attachments to the concept and the look, so we can be more objective. In turn, that helps us to develop and grow. And, we hope, make better art.