[ Essay ] What does an artist do?

 My definition of art is the chemical reaction between the art(ist) and the audience. Then what does an artist do, after all? She doesn’t set out to create chemistry—that’s a secondary effect. She is out to create tangible (or intangible) work. What does she create, and why does she do that?

I used to think there is no reason for artistic creation; it just happens, as when we like someone. But to create is to act, and when we take a course of action there should be a reason that drives us: a primitive emotion such as fear, joy, or anger. What is the urge to create? I’ll twist this question personally: Why do I want to write? I need to understand this point clearly, otherwise waking up at 4:00am every day is nothing but self-torture.

Whenever I say I “write” I have an uneasy sensation because I don’t enjoy the writing process much. Usually before I write I cannot wait to open my laptop; after that I will do anything to not write. If there is one thing that all writers agree on, it is that writing is hard: I can practically define a writer as someone who doesn’t want to write. On top of that, it is a lonely affair and has an infinitely low return-of-investment ratio in monetary terms. Why keep writing?

It is because I have the urge to share that “something” which exists in my mind. It starts as a vague sensation or a short question during commuting, my shower, or lunch. For example, this post started from the aforementioned sarcastic insight: Why do I write, when the first thing that comes to my mind about writing is “It is hard”? If I am not careful, the vague sensation quickly gets buried among mental noise. But if I succeed in picking it up (= jot it down in my notebook), I can later plant it and grow it by adding—or inviting—more words.

If I endure the pain and sleep deprivation during drafting, something unexpected occurs: the idea starts to take its own course. During the (literally) dark hour of writing, I feel the sensation that a new horizon is opening up in front of me. What started as a mental itchiness turns into a discovery of a new thought, an idea that did not exist until I put it down through my keyboard. When a good draft is completed, I feel more like a transcriptionist than a writer. I wrote it, but I did not “make it up”; that piece of writing was there all the time, waiting for someone to dig it out. Then I turn into a 5-year-old who proudly hands out this dirt meatball to everybody: Look what I’ve got!

Therefore, for me it is more about discovery and sharing. I am entirely not sure if I “made up” something because, as I said, the idea—hopefully—takes care of its own growth; I just supply water and fertilizer. After the initial phase, I feel more like the witness to an event. I write because that’s the only way I know how to recreate this discovery-and-share cycle. And that’s what artists do in general, I believe. The urge to share our discoveries is etched in our psyche as a human being. Artists are especially tuned to that urge and create their work to share what they see, hear, smell, taste, feel, or think, with the world. Some take up brushes, some knives, some their own bodies. I type.