The Value of Art for Art’s Sake


Today is Tax Deadline Day (That’s right: This year’s deadline is actually April 18) where many of us are thinking about… well… money, when it comes right down to it. But as an artist, money can mean many different things. It can signify success, yes, but it can also feel like a weight, tying you down to a specific outcome, if, for instance, you have been hired to create something for someone else. It can signify a form of approval or validation–when someone buys our art it’s usually because they like it. Most of us need to feel that kind of validation once in a while. But in the case of Art for Art’s Sake, it’s a different scenario.

The idea of Art for Art’s Sake or Art for Self is something that’s been on my mind lately. I truly believe that the need of other’s approval can be an artist’s/writer’s undoing. The making of art purely for self-expression can be one of the most fulfilling ways to create. There is a vast and diverse spectrum of motivations for human creativity, and all have played a role in contributing to the world’s greatest masterpieces.

But Art for Art’s Sake seems to me one of the purest, and it has been a creed of mine since the day I proclaimed myself an artist (at age 11), but it’s tough not to stray from this path. I have found that if I do stray… if I find myself motivated by ego or money, for instance, what I’m creating ends up adversely affected. When I write for myself and put the good of the story first, what I turn out is equally affected but in a wholly positive way. The first draft is always and only for me. The last draft is often for others. Steven King said, “Write with the door shut. Edit with the door open.” That is great advice.

But does the need for monetary compensation, or the desire to share what we’ve created, and in turn, to be applauded, muddle the process? This is a question that has arisen since I have entered the world of publication and promotion. I must admit, my desire for an audience has grown stronger in the last few years, born first from the need to give back to a world that has given so much to me.

There was a time when it seemed all I did was take from the artistic world (writing and creating in a vacuum without ever sharing any of it). Several years ago I came to the decision that it was time for this love affair to be reciprocal. And perhaps my age had something to do with it as well. The knowledge that my life was nearly half over (if I’m lucky), prompted in me the desire to leave something behind. I never had children of my own. My books are my only legacy… the only proof that I have existed.

The “creative muses” have been very generous to me. So how do I return the favor? I can make sure my words teach, guide, lift spirits, open hearts, and promote a reverence for life in others the way my favorite books have done for me. I wish to be a part of the family of writers that have changed the world one heart/mind at a time. Yes, these are tall aspirations, but it is a deep desire in me that grows stronger every year I walk this beautiful earth.

And if I knew that from this day forward, no one would ever read my books? Yes, I would still write, still tell my stories, because they breathe within me and need to breathe outside me. Once a story is emerging inside, I cannot deny its existence. My innate creative nature takes over at some point and the process develops a life of its own. Art must be born.

I had a great art teacher in college. I will never forget what he said about the nature of creativity. It was in a Three-Dimensional Design class. He strolled over to the student sitting next to me who was staring at a lump of clay. When asked, she said “I don’t know what to do. I can’t do it.” He responded by saying, “You don’t think you can run out to the ocean and stop the next wave do you? Art will happen. The first thing we must learn is how NOT to stand in its way.”

I remember thinking BRAVO! All the ideas humans have about art, the list of “reasons” they create, muddy the process. Indeed, the art that has touched me through the years has usually been created by someone who was “driven” to create. These are my people and my heart recognizes them. Some have wondered if Van Gogh, who sold but a single painting during his lifetime (The Vin Rouge) ever felt the sting of his inability to find an audience. If he’s in this family of soul-driven artists I spoke of above (and I believe he is) then the answer is no, not while he was creating. During the act of creation, there is nothing but the creation…there is not even an artist, just the art. That is how it feels.

When I write, I, as the conduit, eventually disappear, transmuted into energy, a presence, like wind on water…able to influence the surface, but the depth and breadth below is a quality unto itself. For this kind of artist, the only time you think of an audience is after the fact, when you see what has come through you and want to share it (or you’re starving and have a sincere desire to eat).

Art has always been an inner path for me, and a personal driving force in my life. And although I am now pursuing a more outward path (of publication and promotion), the thought of where my art will end up never enters my creative process, and therefore is not muddled by future agendas. I suppose the question of Art for Art’s Sake is for each artist to answer for themselves. For me, the process of creation is as natural as lightning seeking ground. We all need an outlet for this amazing energy coursing through us. I choose to create… to write… songs, stories, thoughts and ideas. This is my outlet. What is yours?


Elayne G. James is the author of the adventure/
fantasy coming-of-age series, The LightBridge 
Legacy, a new holiday novel titled The Saint of 
Carringtion, and the upcoming Dragonbond Books.
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