Art for Art's Sake

My blog post "The Crew - Trouble in Paradise" will continue next week. Apologies to those of you waiting for the next part of the behind the scenes story, but I wanted to take a moment to write on something I've been thinking about recently.

There's something to be said for making art for art's sake. It's an idea I hadn't really understood in my professional career. I would think, "Art for art's sake? What does that even mean? Why would you want to make something you can't even build off of?" While many artists struggle with the idea of making something good enough to show off, my problem lies in wanting to make everything I imagine. For every character I design, there must be a world they inhabit, and for every world they inhabit, there must be a history that influenced their design. Both of these problems can be debilitating for an artist, resulting in them either never share their work for fear of rejection or criticism, or never sticking with one idea long enough to see it come to fruition. As you can guess, world building is incredibly taxing, and once a world finally does exist, an artist can find himself populating it with more characters and backstories than they could ever hope to realistically create. I can remember a time when it wasn't always like this - I wasn't born world building, so when exactly did this happen? When did art have to be something more than just for it's own sake?

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I've been drawing since I was able to pick up a pencil. Ninja Turtles would be the subject, and a brown grocery bag my canvas. It was a way to create the fantastical scenes I had in my head, and bring them into the real world. Of course, I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time - I simply drew because I wanted to see Leonardo fight Batman. After all, swords are cool, Batman's cool, and who wouldn't want to see that?! In school I would often get in trouble for drawing instead of taking notes, or doing homework, or paying attention. School was a prison, and drawing was my escape.

It wasn't until high school that I really began tying the ideas of art and story together. One weekend while hanging out with a friend, I was introduced to Toonami, and the iconic anime Dragonball Z. I've had many artistic influences over my lifetime, but none as great as DBZ. It is the only property I've ever really created fan art for. In art class I would spend my time creating acrylic murals or all the characters, and by my Sophomore year I was creating DBZ anime music videos. Although I didn't understand it then, the idea of drawing Trunks (sword!) fighting Broly was a shorthand for something greater. Now there was backstory, a universe for fans of the show against which to frame my art. This period of time was incredibly beneficial for me as an artist - I learned about anatomy, nonlinear editing, shot composition, and DBZ's overall influences can still be seen in my illustrations today. It was art for art's sake, not made to be anything other than what it was: something for me.

High school graduation came and went, and I enrolled in the Art Institute. I had no desire to continue an educational career, but after spending two summer camps in their program, I had come to appreciate the environment. My time at the Art Institute was good - I met great people, and learned things that I probably wouldn't have on my own, but something happened to me as an artist. I remember sitting in a class with the then-director of the video program, and I asked him if editing anime music videos was a good idea. He instantly shot it down. After all, I couldn't make any money editing that stuff, and it wasn't material I had shot anyway, so I "definitely shouldn't" be investing my time in something like that. As a student, I was being told the things I valued in high school - fan art, anime, and editing AMVs - were all to be discarded and abandoned because I couldn't make money on them.

Because I was a student, and because I didn't have anyone to tell me otherwise, I followed instruction and left those things in the past. I graduated from the Art Institute and moved onto a professional career in advertising, motion graphics, and animation. I still wanted to draw and still loved anime, but when I drew, it just felt hollow. I could no longer enjoy drawing a cool character because I saw it as a waste of time. After all, if I couldn't make money off it, so it wasn't worth spending my time on.

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Sometime around 2010, I began thinking about something. It all started with a simple drawing, and off that drawing I began creating story threads. As if overnight, the art I was creating for fun began taking on a life of its own. In my mind, I would imagine scenes of drama, action, and chaos, all tied to one shared universe. I was creating art for its own sake, in its own world, but this was a marriage between what I'd been taught professionally and the need to find meaning in what I was doing. It was world building. If I couldn't find comfort in drawing what other people had created, then I needed to create a place where I could find comfort, and where I could express myself.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that art doesn't need a purpose. It doesn't need an audience to exist - it only needs to make you, the creator, happy. Sure, it would be great to have millions of fans appreciate the work you do, but if you're not finding enjoyment in the work you're doing, then what's the point? There's this romanticized idea of the "tortured artist," and while I can personally attest to that torture resulting in elevated works, it's not a state you're supposed to exist in permanently. There are periods of time in which you find meaning, learn lessons, and condense your experiences into an external manifestation of art. I feel like that has been my life for quite awhile, being unable to appreciate the things I have accomplished, or the art I have created. However, coming through all that has allowed me to make The Crew, and it will allow me to create things that you will one day marvel at. Until that time, I am taking comfort in the worlds I make and in the art I create. When an artist arrives at this point in their development, anything is possible.

-Joey

I hope you enjoyed this week's blog post along with all the art. I think it's important to encourage other artists who may be going through that uncertain time of choosing this as a career.