Why Do You Make Things?

One of my favorite poems is called “Why I am not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara. It’s a behind the curtain look into a friendship between Frank and painter Mike Goldberg and their respective creative processes. Since I first read this poem in high school, I have been in turns drawn to Frank’s description of his internal creative life and his description of watching Mike’s painting evolve and then to the similarities of their creative works in progress.

It only just occurred to me as I sat down to write this that I had never seen Mike Goldberg’s painting of “Sardines.” So, of course, I looked it up. Unfortunately, I could only find this very small example. Even though I can’t really see the picture, it satisfies me that it exists.

Whenever I sit down to work on a project, be it writing here or cross-stitching or making cards or some other creative thing, I often think of this poem and how the creative process is so energizing to me. The other part of that though is the discussion of the creative process with others. This is something that worked so well for me in college and I miss it. I was working on art everyday and thinking about it and talking about it and consequently, I got pretty good at a few things. My skills are rusty now. My current ability with a paint brush is scary but the need for the discussion remains. So I ask you, why do you make things and what do you enjoy about the creative process? I know we don’t all make the same kinds of things but the process is similar for us all. I look forward to hearing about yours.

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6 Comments

  1. on March 20, 2007 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I quilt. I used to spin as well, but I haven’t had time for that in a long while. I quilt because of two contrasting reasons. The first is that I love the mathematical part of quilting. You have to sew certain shapes and sizes of fabric together in a certain order to put together a pattern that can then repeat itself or not in order to form a whole quilt. It’s always such a pleasure to take simple pieces of fabric and put them together in a certain combination to form something beautiful. The other reason is that I love the art form of quilting. Sure there are formulas that have to be followed in order for the pieces to come together in a certain form, but then there’s the art form of picking the right colors in order for the pattern to either pop out at the viewer or to meld together so that you really have to look to find it. Quilt stores are evil for me because I’m drawn to the beautiful colors and what I can do with them to make a whole quilt.
    I don’t think I’ve ever felt as satisfied as I do when I’m working on a quilt or when I’m finally done with the final piece.

  2. duchess
    on March 20, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I dabble in things. I enjoy crocheting, and I can’t seem to get my hands to work with knitting. But I love looking at different fabrics and working out the stitches to make my own patterns. The best part is that it’s a relaxing state of mind – time flies while you focus on a stitch at a time – and when you are done, you have something functional and pretty. I like the practical aspect of creation.

    I am getting into cross-stitch, but it doesn’t have the same kind of fascination the crocheting does, mainly because it feels more decorative than functional. I will perhaps feel differently when I finally get better enough to do more cross-stitch and embroidery to make pretty things.

    I know what you mean about the discussion that accompanies creativity. I have no artistic talent, but I remember seeing a marked improvement in drawing when I took an art class. I don’t think I can do half of what I accomplished in that class now, but I wouldn’t mind trying again.

    My mother used to make my dolls when I was younger – out of clay and out of cloth. I loved helping her, because again, it made time pass while you are looking at only a fraction of the whole, and you end up with something you can use.

    I like to do all these little projects because it’s a way to immerse myself into things that have nothing to do with housework, jobs, anything stressful, and see something take shape right before my eyes. Each effort – each piece – adds up until something new and distinct emerges. I love that feeling of creation.

    When it comes to writing, and back when I was painting, though, I am not using it to leave my world. I am using the process to absorb all the stresses of my life, the angst, and to spit it back out in a different form. It’s in a way like how people use exercise to work out aggression. Some forms of creativity for me is all about working off the negative energy and bringing me back to a positive frame of mind.

  3. Joyous
    on March 20, 2007 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “My skills are rusty now. My current ability with a paint brush is scary but the need for the discussion remains. ”

    I feel this way about any number of things, chiefly foreign languages. My German’s gone all to heck.

  4. on March 20, 2007 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I like to crochet or knit because it is a relaxing way for me to spend my evenings (when I am not too nauseas to do anything). I tend to favor patterns that aren’t too horribly complicated so that I can easily watch tv and stitch. Also, I can’t sit still, so having something to work on while watching tv is a plus! I also enjoy making something that will be used by others.

  5. on March 20, 2007 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I make budget, project plans, and schedules because I’m contractually required to do so. 😆

  6. Sean
    on March 22, 2007 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I work on cars because I have not had enough skin gouged out of my body by metal objects.

    See my process replicated here- http://www.askpatty.com/page.php?ID=302&t=Man_vs._Woman_Oil_Change