Why I Am an Artist

A few years back, I bought a book called Why Are You Creative? (2002). The premise is that filmmaker Hermann Vaske interviewed a bunch of different artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, actors, and the like. It was about the time I started hearing the word “creative” used as an abbreviation for “creative professional.”

It’s been a while since I read it, but I recall that there were three main types of responses to the titular question, “why are you creative?”:

  1. I don’t really have a choice in the matter because this is how I’m wired and it’s just the way I am, and I don’t know any other way to operate than to create things.
  2. It’s human nature. It’s a natural response to our environment.
  3. I didn’t know I was creative. I have no idea why I am creative.
It’s really interesting to see who said what. Every now and then I ask myself why I’m creative. More specifically, why do I make art?

Start at the beginning

Without my hearing aids I have severe-to-profound hearing loss. I start hearing sounds in the 80-90 decibel range. I can hear a garbage disposal if I’m next to it. I don’t hear anything quieter. With hearing aids I hear well enough but I have some trouble.

I speculate that my artistic ability grew as a response to being unable to communicate verbally so I figured out how to compensate for it by communicating visually. So I think it was partially a matter of circumstance since I did not get hearing aids until I was 2 years old.

It was a response to my environment.

My family background

Looking around at other people in my family there is a strong creative drive. My dad is a preacher. That makes him a speaker and writer. Speaking is not unrelated to acting because it’s about delivering your words in a matter which connects with people.

My grandmother on my mom’s side was terrific at sewing and flower-arranging. That’s creative work since you’re taking all these different elements and putting them together in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, in manner that surprises and delights people. Sewing is functional but very creative since it integrates creative expression with color, form, texture, line, volume, and all the elements of design. Even if you’re using a pattern that someone else made you are putting your own mark on it.

My mom’s dad was also a preacher. When he wasn’t doing ministry he loved to paint watercolors in his down time. He painted a lot of rural scenes. I bet it’s because he grew up in a boarding house in East Nashville and wished he lived in the country. I remember when we would take our annual trip to Cumberland Mountain State Park, we’d rent a cabin and he’d set up a corner where he painted barns and chickens and flowers and such. He worked hard at it and took classes and read books.

So I come from an artistic, creative family.

But being an artist is something I knew all along

My grandparents always liked to share the story of how I tagged along with my granddaddy to an art class at The Centennial Arts Center when I was 6 or 7. I was painting, too. I have no idea what it was. But the instructor (I’m pretty sure it was Hazel King) saw what I was doing and said “Brad, you’re going to be an artist someday!”

I just looked up and said, “I am an artist.”

Wait a second.

knew this way back then. I already was an artist. It wasn’t a matter of someday. I already was.

I love how children don’t make a distinction between someday and now. For children there is only the present.

That’s such a powerful lesson for us as adults.

As artists.

I think we lose a certain kind of intelligence as we grow up. We become so “informed,” but I think kids have a powerful, intuitive recognition of The Truth. They know what’s real. There’s no fooling them.

So whenever I doubt myself, I just look at 7-year-old me. Or I look at my own 7-year-old. She knows she’s an artist, a writer, a dreamer. (Right now she is writing a hilarious story about a girl whose tongue turns green and gives her special powers. And it started the other night when I gave her a new blank sketchbook, and we were eating spinach with our dinner.)

Is it just how I am wired?

Sometimes, I really think so.

I mean, I can point at all these influencing factors: I’m deaf, and I come from a creative family that always encouraged whatever I was into at the time.

But I think in a very real sense I think it’s hard-wired into me. I think it’s part of human nature, how God made us. When you open the Bible to the first page, in the book of Genesis, you see the first thing God does is He creates everything.

We call God the Creator.

I think it’s significant that in virtually every religion, you have some concept of a Creator. I believe that is where we get our creative impulse, because we are made in the image of God and one of the things God does is he creates.

So why am I an artist?

Maybe this is cheating, but I feel like it is all of the above.

I can’t imagine not making art.

I can’t imagine not creating.

If I’m not painting, I’m drawing something. Or I’m writing something. Or I’m playing with my kids and building Legos with them. Or helping them make a blanket fort. Creativity is using your imagination, transforming this blanket into something else.

I think creativity is fundamental to what makes us human.

Over to you

So why are you creative? If you don’t call yourself an artist, what do you do that’s creative? Where does it come from?