The importance of “why” for artists

The importance of “why” for artists

The question of “why?” is a powerful one. It can be used to bring clarity to what you do, and make it more meaningful. The answer may not be obvious at first, but if you ask yourself the right questions eventually you will get your answer.

When you have a why, the how will follow.

Your why is the reason you do what you do. It is the reason why you get up in the morning, your motivation and inspiration. The more clarity you have on your why, the easier it will be to find a way forward when things get difficult or scary.

Why should we care about our own whys? Because when we have them clearly defined and understood, then everything else comes into focus and our goals become much easier to achieve.

When I was younger my mother would ask me “Why are you doing that?” whenever she saw me drawing in my sketchbook at home. At first I didn’t really know how to reply because I was still learning so much about myself as an artist (and still am). However, as I grew up, I found reasons behind behaviours choosing certain subjects for illustration projects or selecting one medium over another in order to create work.

The greater your why, the easier it will be for you to accomplish your goals.

It’s easy to feel discouraged when you're creative. The path of an artist is known for being difficult. We’ve all wondered at one point if an art career is really worth it, if our work has any value to anyone.

Your why is what keeps you going when things get tough. If you don’t have a strong why, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up.

There will be roadblocks, distractions, and disappointments like anything else in life. Your why will help keep you focused on what really matters even when everything else seems to be against you.

Your why also helps you answer other questions in your arts career.

Your why plays into many different aspects of your art career. It seems like there are endless questions to answer. If you know why you are creating questions like these are easier to answer.

  • What you are trying to communicate with your art
  • How to build a cohesive body of work
  • Writing an artist's statement
  • Getting past artists block
  • What kind of art you want to make
  • What art gallery would make a good fit for you

You already know what it is.

It's not something you can make up or fake. You already do it unconsciously when you make work. We just want to bring that raison d’etre to the surface so you can streamline your decisions.

A part of you already knows what your why is, it just hasn’t been brought to light yet?

My advice for finding it? Pay attention. These questions have helped me find why I was making art, and hopefully they will help you out as well!

What qualities does your favourite medium have that makes it your favourite?

E.g - My favourite medium is acrylic paint. I like how quickly it dries, I can change anything relatively quickly. I like the flexibility of acrylic paint.

What are your favourite subjects to draw?

E.g - My favourite things to draw are people and biological shapes. The looseness is always fun for me and I like to change proportions to create dramatic effects. I like how free flowing organic subjects are.

What subjects do you dislike to draw?

E.g - While I love the look of buildings when in my art I find drawing them tedious. Usually the perspective and lines need to look a certain way in order for the picture to make sense. How restrictive they are irritates me at times.

Who is your favourite artist? What art movement are they a part of?

E.g - My favourite artist is Francis Bacon. The way he is able to use paint to create such depth of emotion and contort the human figure is beautiful. I’ve never seen work that stays with me as much as he does.

Notice anything? My answers have something in common. It shows me that I don’t like to be restricted in art, and that expression is very important to me. Once you start to notice these patterns in your own work it’s much easier to synthesise a why.

Your “why” also evolves over time, like your art! My reason to create is much different than it was a decade ago.


There is something special and powerful about having a why. It keeps you anchored. It gives you resilience. And it can be your guide in times of uncertainty or stress. When you know your why, the how will follow, and the greater your why, the easier the how will be to find. Do not underestimate this element in your life as a creative person — it is one of the most important things you will ever find out about yourself!


Jessica Zwick, is a fine art student at Langara College in Vancouver BC. 

She has a passion for bringing artists together through organizing events and knowledge share. 

She is the community manager of artterra's A-Z challenge

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