Submission No. 38

Why do we make art in the first place?

This is something new: the riffer wishes to make a submission, upon which readers may riff if they like.

The other day I came upon this provocative statement in an interview in the Atlantic Monthly from the writer and neuroscientist (and anti-religious taboo-breaker) Sam Harris:

“It’s probably true that certain human accomplishments depend upon people’s neurotic needs for achievement or their lust for money or power. A lot of art comes from a place of being captivated by selfish illusions. And if a person were to permanently dispel the illusion of the self, he might not write great novels… Buddhahood might be incompatible with being the next Nabokov… Luckily, no one has ever had to choose between becoming a great artist… or the next Buddha.

The relevant question for me is how neurotic and unhappy and self-deceived do we have to be while living productive lives. I think the general answer is, far less than most of us are.”

So Sam Harris (himself not an artist, significantly?) is saying that, for someone to have the urge to make art in the first place (or even further, the urge to make art frequently enough for this activity to constitute the basis of a “productive” life), he or she has to be, to some extent, “neurotic and unhappy and self-deceived.”

Is this true?


I believe that it is.

I believe that this is why I am not driven to making art as much as I once was: I see the futility in such egoistic activities. I laugh and stare at the little brown-gray finch jittering around on the ground outside my window instead. Oh, look! He has flown away.

–Just kidding. I wish I were as creative as I once was. But why am I not? Is this contingent on specific circumstances in my life? Or is it related, in some way, as Harris contends, with a kind of spiritual state, either good… or bad?

This then, is the question I want to submit to the artists who happen to read this blog:

If you were deeply content, do you think you would create more or less, better or worse, art?

About Tom Clyde

The best place to learn about me is to read my riffs. What could be more revealing? Cheeky, maybe, but true enough.

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