Artgasm: Why You Ought to Make Some Art


“Art is the proper task of life.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

I love making things. I always have. I remember as a youngster spending hours drawing pictures of Spider-Man and Dragonball Z characters. As a kid I also played piano (a skill I hope to reclaim) and more recently, I dabble in acoustic guitar. In college I started and continue to write fiction and poetry. A year and a half ago I began creating this blog. As of a few months ago I also make weird rap songs about philosophers, 90s cartoons, and chupacabras.

Creative expression has claimed a significant chunk of the strange and ever-shifting mosaic that is my life and my identity. I spend so much of my time immersed in or producing artistic products that I don’t have any idea what I’d do without that portion of my being. Sort of how I feel about pizza. Art is like endless pizza for the brain (going to regret that simile)—it nourishes and satiates me in myriad ways, some of which I probably can’t articulate.

Luckily, I can articulate some of them, so I made this nice list of reasons why I love making things and why, perhaps, you could also. Typically I shy away from listicles, but dammit, this is the Internet and the Internet loves listicles, so here’s a listicle.  Hopefully you’ll find more substance in this one than in the average Buzzfeed post.

1. It’s so f***ing human.

The human animal differs from other species in many ways (some of which are arguably hideous), but perhaps one of the most extraordinary differences is our ability to imagine things that do not exist and create them in the world. Artistic expression is a thread of continuity between all human cultures across oceans of time. Imagination is such a fundamental part of who we are that we automatically create fantasy worlds and stories while we’re asleep. Kurt Vonnegut summed it up well in Timequake when he wrote:

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

2. You’re free as a dragon, son.

Okay, well, you can’t fly or breathe fire, except in your head. But really, the only boundaries in art are formed by three things: a) physics b) your equipment/materials c) your imagination.

For some people, the word “art” connotes a world where people use lofty, highfalutin language to talk for 30 minutes about a picture of some trees. Or of impoverished dudes with dusty hats and furrowed brows who lock themselves in cramped, shadowy studios to slave over their masterpiece.

These are outmoded and seriously limiting ideas about what “art” can mean (even the experts can’t agree on what it means) or be. Art could be you drawing a picture of Obama dressed as Peter Pan carrying a light saber riding a woolly mammoth (someone, please go do that). It could mean building sweet longboards and painting Ron Burgundy or Darth Vader on the bottom, like a friend of mine does. It could mean brewing experimental beers or constructing picturesque rocking chairs or taking candid photographs of chinchillas or making exceptionally clever and elaborate Snapchats. Art = endless possibilities = life = …. I digress.

3. Art is communication, man.

To create something is to express yourself in a way that you would otherwise not be able to—to connect with others on a different and perhaps much deeper level than is allowed by normal interaction. Even something like a gorgeous, handmade piece of pottery reveals a person’s diligence, attention to detail, patience, vision, and commitment to perfecting a craft. Mediums like film or fiction-writing or music can communicate a whole lot more than that—they can contain personalities and worldviews and hope and despair and lust and madness, the entire gamut of human experience.



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4. You’ll be more original than original sin, m’boy.

There’s really no better way to be indisputably and exclusively yourself than to create something that only you can dream up and make. Art is a means of defining and affirming your individuality, of distinguishing what is yours and yours alone. Of course, as anyone who creates things realizes, it turns out to be insanely difficult to do something truly new or wildly different than what others have done. That’s okay. We try anyway, and we’re still unique, just like everyone else (yay for worn-out jokes).

5. It’s f***ing fun.

Some consider art to be a purely serious and almost solemn endeavor. While I think there’s absolutely a place for that attitude and for darker art, creating can also be joyful and playful. When Heems of the now-disbanded (RIP) rap group Das Racist wrote the words, “Hello, Young Cocoa Butter, who is you? / White people love me like they love Subarus,” he was joking around and having fun.  Ray Bradbury once wrote:

Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

I try to approach things that I make with this same spirit of enjoyment (doesn’t always work). I want to be amused, excited, and/or soothed by the creative process, not stoic or filled with doubt and worry about possible “mistakes” I’m making.

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst, 1921. Via Wikipedia

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst, 1921. Via Wikipedia

 6. It’s a release, an “artgasm”.

Like an enormous cathartic dump—Art, she is. We’re all walking around with various anxieties, struggles, fears, hopes, and uncertainties, many of which we may not even be aware of. Art provides a sort of infinite void into which we can pour everything inside of us. We grope and wrench and snatch and tweeze all of these aspects of our ridiculously complex inner worlds and let them spill out into a poem or a song or a story or a stand-up comedy routine. And when we’re done, maybe we feel a bit lighter, or perhaps we’ve accepted things that were troubling us.

7. Purpose and pride. (not a Jane Austen novel)

Building things beyond ourselves and larger than ourselves seems to provide a sense of purpose. You’re working toward realizing your quirky vision; you notice that you’re getting better and you feel proud; you can see the work starting to take shape and you’re glad you’re making that happen, dammit. The more time you spend, the more meaningful the piece or project becomes—the more it is a part of you and a reflection of you.

8. Lose yourself like Eminem did.

“In the music, the moment. / You own it. You better never let it go.” This universally-known quote from a song that we’ve all heard a few (hundred) too many times is somehow appropriate. Art allows you to enter a place where you forget yourself, a place where you’re simply flowing with what you’re doing, entirely focused on the thing you’re imagining, and everything else melts away. This is a wonderful space to discover, a sort of Never Never Land (that’s two Peter Pan references in one article, for those counting) that is always available.

9. It’s intrinsically f***ing rewarding.

Many people do things for some external reason—to make money or please someone else or further some agenda. Some people make art partially out of extrinsic motivation (not always as sinister as it seems), but a beautiful thing about art is that it can be an end in itself.

The quest of creating something—the questions, the discovery of the thing, the flailing around, the moments of surprise and child-like wonder and delight and excitement, the final product that you weren’t really expecting—can be reason enough to do the work and may even bring you something rather difficult to find elsewhere. You impregnated your mind and heart and gave birth to a reality that no one had ever seen or conceived of previously. I hope I haven’t over-romanticized in such a way as to activate your gag reflex, but seriously, that’s pretty neat, boys and girls.

bison

Bison painting in Altamira Cave in Spain dated 20,000-35,000 years old. Via Wikipedia. 

10. You will die, but it won’t.

Pretty serious bummer, I know, but someday you and I and everyone we know will be nothing more than dirt and bone dust. Our human selves have expiration dates (unless immortality via technology happens anytime soon; not so sure I’d sign up), but art doesn’t really have to.






Or, at the very least, it can last a hell of a lot longer than us. I mean, we’re still appreciating bison that were painted on cave walls 40,000 years ago. Our early painter-ancestors are long gone, but they left us a time capsule that connects us to the past and tells us something valuable about who we are and where we come from. Think of all of the other artists—Homer, Chaucer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Beethoven, et al.—who have long since met their maker yet still affect us with what they made.

Such legacies are… incredibly cool. And while I’m not saying that you or I are going to create something that humanity will treasure in 40 millennia (though, who knows), I do think we can make things that, at the very least, our descendants might one day appreciate. “Hey kids, let’s read this bizarre story that your great-great-grandpa Jordan wrote when he was 23 years old.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel there’s something sublime in that idea—living on through the pieces of ourselves that we capture within the things we create.

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About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is a writer and perpetually curious autodidact interested in just about everything. He tweets a lot. He questions all the things. He makes unusual rap songs. He wanders the globe and writes about the most vitalizing, useful, and/or world-changing insights he happens upon. He dreams of a more compassionate, cooperative global community in which every human being's basic needs are met and in which all sentient beings are respected. Befriend him and/or get his best ideas sent to your inbox, if you like. Amor fati, humans.

  • Laughed at the consecutive son, man and m’boy. I don’t know exactly why. I have written some 16s over the last few years. We should start a group, haha. The last few months art hasn’t been top priority for me, but every now and then I’ll sit down and play Erik Satie’s Gnossiene no 1 on the piano (my all time favorite piano tune. I liked it so much that I learned how to play it despite having forgotten how to plat the piano.) And then play around to the extent that I can and compose some snippets. Music is cool, if I give it a chance maybe I can do something with it some day.

    All good points. I’m raising what’s left of my tea as I write “to art” and then it’s back to watching a sitcom, haha.

    • Hahah, glad you got a laugh out of those. I put them in there because they amused me for reasons I also do not entirely understand. Funny that you’ve also written some raps. I can send you some of the stuff I’ve been working on if you want. Once I get a better microphone, I’m going to re-record my songs and put out a free project on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, I think. I have enough material now for a full “mixtape”, or whatever you’d call it.

      I have a pretty broad view of “art”. I think almost any sort of building or making that involves creativity could reasonably be seen as art. And those are the things I’m most drawn to. Do I care that other people don’t care about creating anything? No, do your thing. Nice to hear that you still dabble on the piano. I also think music is cool, haha. One of my favorite things about life.

    • “if I give it a chance maybe I can do something with it some day.”

      Do it now! Who cares if it isn’t as good as what it could potentially be. You might make something amazing in your naivety.

  • Art can be poetry of the soul. It can be cheap, gaudy, flashy, trendy and trashy, or it can be Music of the Heart. I love feeling Art. I love gentle people, who can connect us to a much greater, wider, infinitely more soaring Universe.

    • I think you’re bringing up a really interesting point, Francis. You seem to favor and esteem art that is overtly about those “highest” of aspirations—poetry of the soul, elucidation of the sublime, deeply moving melody. I love that sort of art too, but I think it’s dangerous to set up a dichotomy which implies that there’s “real”, spiritual art on one hand and then there’s everything else. I’m not saying you did that, but it almost seemed that you set your “Music of the Heart” in contrast to all other art, which you implied is mostly “cheap, gaudy, flashy, trendy and trashy”, all words with negative connotations in the context of your comment, I think.

      I struggle with my own tendency to create hierarchies in art because I do still believe some art has more merit than other art. I think a Kafka story has more value than smeering my ordure on a window and calling it postmodern art. I think Beethoven has more significance than Taylor Swift. I can’t help but feel this way, but who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe art is whatever you want it to be, and maybe whatever you make is just as legitimate and necessary and good as anything anyone else makes.

      I think I’ve gradually moved much closer to this latter viewpoint, and I think doing so has opened a lot of doors in my own art to experiment in ways I would’ve previously eschewed out of fear of producing “low art”, or not being taken seriously, or offending someone. And I think when the artist is producing with fears like that in mind, they’re not open to expressing the whole spectrum of their experience, which I think prevents the production of their best work, or at least their most honest work. Maybe I’ve rambled here, but I hope you see what I mean. I guess: I see significant value in writing a silly story about a dog with superpowers or drawing a picture of grizzly bear in a tuxedo or writing a song about a trashy, taboo subject. I see something beautiful in those things. That doesn’t mean I listen to pop music. 🙂 Cheers, my friend.

      • Very good. Which, in turn, leads on to another consideration. Why, oh why, I ask myself, do I even give a rat’s posterior about what people think? Why should I pursue approbation, and fear rejection? Increasingly, hell, I’m too busy reading, scribbling, musing or meditating, eating, burping or sleeping, to really be bothered to worry about it. Inevitably, on different forums, I get slammed for something. Used to bother me. I honestly think now it’s more like water off a duck’s back. With that realization that I increasingly don’t care, and I’m just happy to blog, has come an odd kind of liberation and empowerment. For what it’s worth, probably not-a-lot, here’s two stories that explore that theme…

        “In the shadow of the Turtle, Meditation” http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=844 and, at the other end of the spectrum, “Graffiti Art – is this a good career choice?” http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=845 If you want my vote, I say write, compose, scribble, sing, splash paint, fold paper, bang a drum, or fly a kite. And be happy. Peace.

  • Thanks, Francis. The approval definitely has to come from within. Entirely transcending the affect of others’ opinions about something as personal as writing or art is a tremendous task.I haven’t reached that point. May never, but I do think I’ve cultivated enough awareness to see any negative or positive feedback as just another leaf on the breeze.

    Just need to remember to take a step back and not feed the trolls. Best. 🙂