As you know by now, I love to follow Brooks Jenson’s podcasts and writings. One of my favorite pieces is an editorial he wrote entitled “Why Make Art?” In this piece, he talked about the way that art can seem like an unessential thing to do when we could all be out bettering the world in some other way. Of course, he proved that art is, in fact, essential, but I don’t want to repeat the things that he said here.
Instead, I want to build on these ideas by showing you some of the things that motivate us to make artistic photographs. I think that, within some of these motivations, we’ll find yet more answers as to why art, whether it be photography or something else, is so essential to humanity.
Creation is what humans do. If you look at the sum total of everything that we have, the majority of it was created by someone, or by a group of someones. All of the practical things that you use every day, from your home to your car and even your camera are things that came from the human need to create. This drive has even pushed our species to make technological marvels like computers, rockets and space stations.
All of these creations, however, are made with a solitary purpose. Vehicles take us from place to place quickly, our homes give us shelter and comfort, and marvels like a space station let us learn more about the universe.
Why is a photograph made? When you examine the answers to that question, you quickly realize that there is no singular reason to create art. Every artist has his or her own reasons, and those reasons will be different from artist to artist. These varying reasons represent true creative freedom.
You might not be able to read foreign languages or understand what someone from another country is saying. Cultural differences make it difficult to understand what people think and feel around the world. In that sense, art is something of an equalizer. You can look at a photograph or a painting and understand at least something of what the artist was thinking or feeling, even if that image was created by someone from a culture utterly foreign to you.
Perhaps one of the things that motivates us is the subconscious knowledge that art improves our minds. Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” And indeed, numerous studies show that looking at art or creating art improves the way our brains work.
A 2009 study from Johns Hopkins University suggested that focused training in any art, be it imagery, music or dance, improves your attention. That, in turn, improves general cognition. This study, and others like it, are based around the “Mozart Effect,” which is a theory that suggests that listening to Mozart’s music boosts your ability to reason for a short while.
Another study, this one coming from Germany, showed that creating art caused significant increases in brain function. Researchers divided a group of retirees into two groups: Those tasked with creating art, and those tasked with appreciating it. The people that created the art had increased psychological resistance and better functional connectivity within the brain.
Those that appreciate art rather than create it still see some benefits, however. A new field of research, called embodied cognition, tells us that your mind is a product of your environment. If your environment happens to be filled with art, then your brain tends to work more efficiently than someone who never has a chance to appreciate art.
Art is a powerful tool that not only improves our minds but also gives us unfettered freedom to create anything we desire. The things I've listed here are by no means the only motivations we have to create art, but they are a few good reasons why we should create it.