I’m reading Rick Rubin’s new book The Creative Act: A Way of Being. It’s the best book on making art & living a creative life I’ve read since reading Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
Here’s an excerpt from Rubins new book:
There doesn’t need to be a purpose guiding what we choose to make. When examined more closely, we might find this grandiose idea useless. It implies we know more than we can know.
Does the artist have a social responsibility?
Some might agree with this notion and want to encourage artists to create accordingly.
Those who hold this belief may not have a clear understanding of the function of art in society and its integral social value.
The work of art serves its purpose independent of the creator’s interest in social responsibility. Wanting to change people’s minds about an issue or have an effect on society may interfere with the quality and purity of the work.
This doesn’t mean that our work can’t have those qualities, but we generally don’t get there by planning them. In the creative process, it’s often more difficult to accomplish a goal by aiming at it.
Deciding what to say in advance doesn’t allow whatever’s best to come. Meaning is assigned once an inspired idea is followed through.
It’s best to wait until a work is complete to discover what it is saying. Holding your work hostage to meaning is a limitation.
Works that attempt to overtly preach a message often don’t connect as hoped, while a piece not intended to address a societal ill may become an anthem for a revolutionary cause.
Art is far more powerful than our plans for it.
Art can’t be irresponsible. It speaks to all aspects of the human experience.
There are sides of ourselves that aren’t welcome in polite society, thoughts and feelings too dark to share. When we recognize them expressed in art, we feel less alone.
More real, more human.
This is the therapeutic power of making and consuming art.
Art is above and beyond judgment. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t. The artist’s only responsibility is to the work itself. There are no other requirements. You’re free to create what you will.
You don’t have to stand for your work, nor does your work have to stand for anything but itself. You are not a symbol of it. Nor is it necessarily symbolic of you. It will be interpreted and reinterpreted in the eyes and ears of those who know almost nothing about you.
If there were anything you might stand for, it would be to defend this creative autonomy. Not just from outside censors, but from the voices in your head that have internalized what’s considered acceptable. The world is only as free as it allows its artists to be.
What we say, what we sing, what we paint— we get to choose. We have no responsibility to anything other than the art itself. The art is the final word.
Rubin, Rick. The Creative Act (pp. 321-322). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
5 Comments Add yours
When I did my creative writing MFA program, we were assigned books that felt “open-ended,” that is to say, they didn’t preach any one right or wrong way of writing or enhancing the creative process. The books were examples of creative ways of writing, but also they were about mindset and process. One book that stays with me is “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. When we think of ourselves as perpetual beginners there’s no need to search for answers or compare ourselves to others or feel societal pressures. I agree, it’s difficult to tune out societal pressures and criticisms, but I believe that we as artists must simply do the work ans it pulls us to do, and go gently without pressuring ourselves. As with everything, my mentor used to say, we should not avert our eyes, but rather observe and hold the truths of the world lightly.
Beautiful – thank you ❤️
“Art is more powerful than our plans for it” sums it up very well. In my opinion, too much art today is made in service of a particular political or philosophical viewpoint. When goals like that drive art it lessens its emotional power.
I used to see art-making and working in a job that helps people as two opposing ways to spend your time and energy but that was long ago.
I like the author’s idea of defending against internal censors and understanding that our responsibility is only to allow our art to speak freely. Not always easy.
When working as a critic I went to a lot of exhibitions where the artists presented long written statements about the intention & meaning of his/her work. But to me a written text in an exhibition only made sense if it in itself was a piece of art.
If someone has to explain why what you see is art, then there is still a way to go for the artwork to … actually work, as art –
Oh, the artist’s statement! So dreadful! Sometimes I think it’s the main thing people work on when they go to school for an advanced degree in art. 😉 Yes, either art works or it doesn’t and it’s unlikely that it will work for everyone.