Suzy Lake spoke at the AGH last month. It was an excellent talk, with a look at an amazing five decades of work by an artist who continues to push her medium, her ideas and herself to remain current throughout. She was misunderstood at the beginning. She had to push for her place in the gallery world: as a woman artist, as a photographer using herself as the subject of her images, and she continues to push her own ideas, the technology and the art form. The talk ended with a simple statement, and one that we have all heard from artists at all stages of their practice, but one that really hit a note for me: “I do it because I have to.”
In conversation later with a colleague, this came up again and as artists we can agree that this is a driver for so many creative people. He shared something he had read once (and I paraphrase here, without knowing the original source), that being an artist can be a kind of deficit rather than a gift, because artists who are really driven by their art walk around feeling like there is a hole that can only be filled by making art. Again, something that rings so true, especially in my own recent experience – that hole is looming in a life that is so full of family and work (and sleep?) that I have found little time to be creative and I am feeling it.
I do it because I have to.
When we learn about art and artists, especially contemporary artists, we can focus too much on concept, materials, technique – these are easy access points, and a good bridge between a skeptical audience and the object in front of them – but they often miss something more significant, and that is the motivation behind it all: the passion, the drive behind the finished pieces. I’ll admit that it is possible that not all successful artists have it. There are those who are caught up with playing with the market, with their own fame and bravado that they may have forgotten, but think about the others… those who scavenge their own lives and the spaces around them for ideas or materials, those whose dedication to their craft and vision leads them down unorthodox paths and those who toil away in solitude just because they love what they do.