Why We Long To Make Art

Why We Long To Make Art

When I am not doing my art, which is most of the time, I think of it as important but optional, one of several things I have to schedule, subservient to work and family for sure.

When I am doing my art, I think I am saving my very life.

There is an exquisite wrangling of chaos.

The pleasure is so palpable. It’s healing war wounds. I am a superhero.

If only I can bring this power to my everyday life.

All I need is a little grace and verve.


Image is Sidewalk Face 835

What’s Your Affinity? I Like Faces.

What’s Your Affinity? I Like Faces.

In a recent post I described artistic affinity and used my attraction to gray as an illustration. This may explain why I don’t grow tired of making faces on pavement year after year, but it doesn’t explain my affinity for found object portraiture. Let me use this space as a workbench to try and figure out how to state the deeper affinities that drive all of my art.

My Affinity

Facial expressions are the language of emotion. As pack animals, we are incredibly good at knowing how someone feels internally by reading their external body language. Notice the common verb reading to describe the process of seeing someone and decoding their emotional state. I love looking at my faces after I have made them and “reading” the emotion they are projecting. I usually have some idea about it in the moment of making it but I work so fast and under such ephemeral conditions, that I don’t spend much time on that part during the making of them. I have a strong intuitive sense I got it, or I might keep going. I know when a face is blah, or worse, inauthenticc. But it’s happening almost unconsciously on my part. I don’t intentionally bring my consciousness to it until I look at later on my computer screen. In this sense, my process accommodates to two versions of my inner artist, the hunter/gatherer and the cook. Each suits my affinities.

The Hunter/Gatherer

I love to walk around and notice things. I love having a task while I do it. The task is called find supplies and find something unique we can use to make a face. I just really really enjoy this. It’s natural and easy. This hunter/gatherer is less interested in what is going to happen to the face that she makes and more interested in just hunting it and gathering it. The thrill is being finely attuned to one’s surroundings.

The Cook

The cook is interested in what has been brought to her. She is selective and is looking for a harmonious combination of good composition, lighting and facial expression. She wants a very definitive emotion to be coming across. The face should suggest a story, a story which explains the emotion. Many faces don’t meet these requirements and don’t get shared. The cook wants to share her creation. The cook is thinking about who will eat her food. She wants to please and delight them. The hunter/gatherer only wants to please the cook.

The Attraction

The attraction is not really towards the object, but rather the adventure and the reward. I feel rewarded by creating an expression. I like people. I like stories. Facial expressions are very short stories told in the medium of the flesh when real and the medium of pavement when I do it. I don’t get bored, or tired, or done with making faces. Each new one delights me. That’s not strictly true. Some faces are too dumb or too irritating. I don’t bother taking photos of those. Or if I do, I don’t share them. So, the most important part of the process is creating an expression that I find fascinating. Most of the time it’s because I relate to the expression but occasionally it’s because I don’t. Either way is acceptable, as long as I feel an attraction.

I enjoy the work of several artists who make designs out of found objects, rather than faces. They are so beautiful. I enjoy seeing their new work every week. I can perceive and appreciate what they are going and yet I feel no compulsion to try it. It’s that compulsion that I think is attached to affinity. It’s something you just can’t stop. Maybe you are only doing it in your head, you haven’t started acting on it, but it’s happening. It’s very hard to get going when there is no affinity. That’s just drudgery. Art must never be drudgery. Art can’t be a drudgery. It’s cancels itself out.

The Orphan Statement

I started this post in September of 2020. Some posts I dash off, mostly if they are about a specific moment in time. But essays about my most deep-seated theories take longer to craft. I am brutal on my writing and throw stuff away constantly. If I think I still need to explore an idea, but it has been removed from its originating paragraph, I add it to the bottom with the idea that I will review it before I finalize the post. The sentence below remains, never incorporated but never rejected. It does not fit into the structure of this blog post, but I think it deserves a moment. If we re-ask the title; What is Your Affinity?, this is a good answer for me:

My affinity is an intersection of my consciousness of being conscious, a sense of mystery and a sense of mortality. When I see something in the bullseye of that triad, I engage with it.

What Should I Do With These Sticks?

What Should I Do With These Sticks?

Sticks are so useful, I never have enough. Sometimes I get frustrated and gather a lot at once. As I cleaned out my overstuffed dog walk bags on my desert retreat, I discovered I did actually have enough. Way more than enough. I needed to let some go. I needed to throw them away.

No! That doesn’t feel good. I will not divest before giving them a chance at the big time. I personally selected those sticks and carried them around for months. They will have their 15 minutes. Here goes.

Check him out. He’s determined!
Can I use this fake fly as an ear?
Yes. Works so well, now he’s demanding a cap.
Next time you are in Target perusing the cookie sheets you’ll think, that would be perfect for sorting my sticks.

Even though this was the first face I made in the desert and the first post I wrote after returning home with my newly cleaned out bags, I am posting him last. He sums up the process nicely. I picked up some sticks, I arranged them into a face, I threw them away.

Seth Godin says: There’s a hackneyed expression, which is what would you do if you knew you could not fail. I find that completely unhelpful because it’s basically a genie question; You want control and you’re never gonna get it. Here’s my question. What would you do if you knew you would fail? What would be worth doing even though it’s not going to work?

I can say I will make faces out of crap on the sidewalk no matter what. I mean, what outcomes are even possible? It’s not an activity with a known outcome. And maybe that’s why I love it. It’s just a fun, joyful thing to do.

The problem, because there is always a problem, is that I collect stuff and then I am saddled with stuff. Then I have to agonize over choices. Keep it or chuck it? Keeping objects is a sign I believe in their potential, or maybe that I believe in my potential, to turn them into something that could make me smile. But is it worth the burden of having all these grubby, difficult to store objects? I really don’t know. Even as I write, all the stuff I let go of in the desert is in a plastic bag under the drawing table in my office. I haven’t thrown it away! Just in case I think of something I might need in there. Have I learned nothing? Or have I learned everything?

I do think I will throw it out, probably once the Christmas decorations rear their multitudinous heads. There won’t be room for everyone. The fact that it’s sorted in a single disposable container means it will be much easier and faster to get rid of then when it was spread over multiple bags and mixed with treasure. Processes are time consuming. If I knew how to make them not that way, I would tell you.

I think going forward I will be more choosey about what I pick up, I will try to make the face right away and when all else fails I will not berate myself for having tangible signs that I was interested in something. Better to be interested than apathetic. So, I will tell myself this: Self! If you have some junk laying around waiting to become a face, don’t get so upset. Something wonderful is sure to happen.


The Seth Godin quote comes from the Time Ferris podcast of October 26th, 2020: Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety (#476). It is fantastic and I highly recommend it.