You Don’t Choose Art. It Chooses You

In Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller writes, “No man wants to be an artist. He is driven to it.” This is an idea that is echoed by a number of artists. Author Paul Auster, for example, goes even further: “Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.” And it’s not just writers.

Douglas Eby writing in “The Creative Mind” discusses “An Intense Inner Pressure to Create” that is experienced by a number of people. The article concentrates on the feelings that gifted adults get from the creative process, the emotional and spiritual balance involved, and the need to create “regardless of payment or recognition.”

According to Sir Ken Robinson, the urge to create does not impact only adults, but children as well. According to Robinson, a person needs only to find the correct medium to fully develop his/her creativity. His books are full of examples of how finding the proper medium for creativity has changed people’s worlds, whether they came to their element early or late in their lives. As he points out, it is not so much about living a creative life, but of finding the proper channel for your particular creativity.

In considering this, I thought of several creative people that I know. A musician that I have known for a very long time began piano lessons around age five or six. To my knowledge, he has never done anything else as an occupation, nor has he wanted to. It is as if from that very early age, he was where he needed to be creatively, and now, many decades later, he is still enjoying sitting at the keyboard doing his work.

Another artist, a visual artist who works in photography, print-making, and sculpture has followed much the same path; he has been doing serious drawing since he was very young. His life has been a straight line of artistic development, working primarily in two dimensions until he got to art school, where he began exploring three dimensional possibilities. Today he makes and teaches art.

Another musician that I know said that he came to be a musician “late.” By late, he means during his college years. He had sung and taken music lessons since he was a young child, but had considered music a hobby until he was a college sophomore, when he finally recognized that this was really what he was about. He then took all the time and energy that he had put into pre-med studies into a vocal music and has never looked back.

Many of the students that I have encountered find a place in art, although perhaps not the one in which they started in. Occasionally, someone finds his/her place right away, like the actor I know who began performing at age 4 and never stopped, but did manage to become quite an accomplished scene painter along the way. Another drama student, however, found that she preferred less collaborative creation and switched to ceramics, then to visual art, where she has become quite successful.

My own story is much the same. I have made things for as long as I remember. And I have tried almost all of the arts, failing at some, succeeding at others. Some did not hold my interest. From all I learned; from each I took something that I still employ in my current work.

For me and, I suspect, for most of you, there was never a “decision” to go into the arts. I seem to have been born with that already decided; all that was left for me was to acknowledge that and find the best ways to engage my creativity. So it is with each of us.


Date: Monday, 6. February 2012 0:57
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  1. 1

    Another great post Jay

    I often tell people I tried to leave the “calling” behind a few times. But I always come back, most times with a new perspective and a new energy to create. The road to artistic expression is not a straight line. You have to get lost a few times…

  2. 2

    Thank you. If not lost, you still have to take a few side-trips. Or at least most of us do.

  3. 3

    My brother was a self employed batik artist after H.S. so the role of artist was taken in our family. Only after a career in public mental health, at age 50, (1995) did I have my first small solo exhibition. Since 2003, I’ve been a full time visual artist working in the studio every day. Since 2007: gunpowder art. Lately, I’ve given up tv and started writing more.

  4. 4

    I’m curious: were you involved in art at all during your first career? Really interesting work on your web site by the way.

  5. 5

    I think that truer words have not been spoken – and even when you run from it – art (or creativity) always finds you and drags you back.

  6. 6

    Or sneaks up on you when you’re not looking.

  7. 7

    I’d drawn all my life but disregarded its value to others. Increasingly, I enjoyed the act of line drawing from life, expecially when I traveled, sitting in the corner of a coffee shop, in a park, etc., but also in boring meetings, even impoortant mtgs. i could not talk on the phone for long without picking up a pencil. Though I got positive remarks when i showed someone my sktch bk I thought little about formal art. Then I took printmaking, and figure drawing at the community college and accelerated my learning and production and quality. Finally, a coffee shop owner encouraged me to do an exhibition that started it all.

  8. 8

    […] of things that ring true, particularly about the need to get out what is inside. And I have talked before about how for most artists, it’s not a question of “want to” but rather a situation of […]

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