Knowing What your Work Means and Why you Made It

I often see people saying things like “I don’t know why I made this” or “I’ll leave the interpretation up to you.” And while everyone will interpretation your work differently as they’ve come with their own background and experiences, if you aim to grow as an artist, you have to be aware of why you’re inspired to make the work you make.

Why should anyone care what you have to say if you don’t have your own artistic voice? Your reasoning could be that you wanted to see if you could successfully recreate a movie scene, like the colors red and orange, love the look of light reflection of water, or even wanted to better express how you feel. It doesn’t matter how simple or complex the reasoning, but know why. Be able to say why.

If you don’t know the why of this piece, how will you know what to try next, what to change, what to keep the same, how to be more successful in depicting this thing?

Know yourself to know your work.

“In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”


Some of my very personal work:

(with commentary on my why)

Further Reading:

“Ask yourself why (for instance) you listen to country western music while you’re painting? (Does it encourage you to choose brighter colors?) Why do you leave your studio unheated even when it means working with your overcoat on? (Does it make your brushstrokes crispier?) How do you sense when the dampened paper wants to take the watercolors?(By touch? Smell? The limpness of the paper?) We rarely think about how or why we do such things – we just do them. Changing the pattern of outcome in your work means first identifying things about your approach that are as automatic as wedging the clay, as subtle as releasing the arrow from the bow.”


7 thoughts on “Knowing What your Work Means and Why you Made It

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  1. Funny that you mention it … I’ve once again prepared a blog entry, writing a long (or long-winded) text to go with the photos, only to look at it an hour later and delete most of the text. I know what I wanted to say and why I expressed it the way I did but I’d rather leave it to the viewer to make up her or his own mind.

    1. And that’s totally your call. But I’ve learned that the viewer will get what they get from it regardless of the information you include with it.

      1. True. My hesitation is that a) I do not want to limit what they get and b) I do not want to bore. But as you said: self-reflection is not a bad thing – as long as it doesn’t get so involved that it hinders or even stops the creative process.

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