How to get naked.

A few nights ago, my boy Jack and I went for a drink at a dive bar near our life-drawing class. We’d spent three hours in a warm room drawing a naked lady and it was time for a beer and further discussion of a central question: why were we doing it?

What was the point of filling up paper (or my case, an iPad screen) with lots of drawings of a stranger? Was it art? Was it exercise? What should we think about the drawings we’d made. Should we share them with other people? Should we hold on to them? What had those three hours been for?

The central question is one that Jack has been asking himself a lot since graduating from art school: why continue to make art?

Jack’s doing well these days, working on movies and TV shows. He’s no longer worried about how he’ll make a living. He’s joined a big union, gets great benefits, and works as much as he wants to doing something he finds interesting. So unlike a lot of his classmates, he doesn’t need to hustle to pay the rent, doesn’t need to suck up to gallery owners or teach art in grade school or sell prints on Etsy or scrounge for design and illustration assignments.

When I encourage him to keep sharing what he’s making, he asks me why. He’s not sure the point of uploading his drawings to social media. What’s that for, he wonders, chasing likes and comments. Why gather followers if he doesn’t have anywhere to lead them?

And then again, why make stuff in the first place? What make paintings? Why take photos? Why draw naked people in a warm room in Los Feliz?

His questions are somewhat academic. Jack can’t stop himself from making things whether we come up with a good answer or not. But it is a good thing to discuss in a dive bar: what’s art for?

We agree that the world of professional gallery art is corrupt and irrelevant to our motives. Their system of commodifying art, of turning authentic creative struggles into something to buy and sell to the overprivileged, has nothing to d with the actual merits of the creations being hawked. The standards they set, which are perpetuated through the art school system, are irrelevant to whether or not well-fed people should scratch their creative itches whenever they want. We’re not interested in art trends or critics or exhibitions and prizes.

But how does one progress in one’s art? And what does progress mean? And again, what’s it all for? Is it okay for art making to be just a hobby? And what does “just a hobby” mean? That seems to suggest it’s a lesser pursuit, trivial, a self-indulgence, a pastime that helps us pass time.

Maybe it is. And so what? We do so many things with our days that are ‘trivial’. Watching TV. Surfing the Internet. Reading social media. Staring out the window. Playing with our pets. Following sports. In facts, those things are what living is actually about. We work to “make a living”. Our past times are the living we’ve made. Surely we can look at art as just one more part of that.

Yes, but.

Art is also a pursuit. It’s a pursuit because we are always pursuing ways to advance. We aren’t satisfied with what we make, satisfied enough to consider it done and dusted, so we push ourselves forward to improve our skills, to try new media, to learn fresh techniques. Being creative means always being a little dissatisfied, pushing for novelty, looking for new ideas and experiences. That’s what makes us humans, what separates us from other species, this restlessness, and I think it exists in its purest form in art making, in questing just for the sake of discovery. If anything, the commercialization of art is a distraction from that purpose, an end game that seems to settle the question of “why”, that claims the answer is money or fame or merit or acclaim.

It’s not. The answer is just the next question and pursuing it is what keeps us going, exploring advancing, making more.

And art is a calling. It’s a call we all hear when we are little and all too many of us stop heeding when we reach middle school. It’s that itch, that whisper, that urge that pushes us to doodle in the margins, to turn our trip to the DMV into a 3-act opera, to dye our hair blue, and buy flowers at Trader Joes. We want to change the world in some way. We want to make something that’s never been before. We want to take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

Sure, we could flatline, thumbing through our feeds, gumming the same ham and cheese, binging at the Netflix trough. But we can’t for long, not without feeling life is just wretched and pointless and lame. We have to get up and start bringing new things into the world. What those things are, where they go, how much they’re worth, whether they’re good enough, none of that is the point.

What matters is that we heed that call, let that siren summon us to new territories, put us into the flow, that narcotic ecstasy our brains make on their own, that raises us above the humdrum, erases the chores, the stress, the bosses and taxes and tumors and sagging paunches, receding gums and hairlines and bank balances and lets us just be creators, mighty creators like God, like Zeus, like our forefathers and -mothers, bringing forth life and flowers and sketches of shoes and naked people and all the rest of the fruits of our wonderful restless minds.

Art is also a conversation. It starts as one between parts of ourself, between our memories, our fears, our joys, our archive of experiences, our influences, our dreams, our skills, and then it becomes manifest. It steps out into the world. We have the choice to just leave it in our sketchbooks, our flat files, our waste paper baskets. But that always feels wrong. Our creations want to be a part of a dialogue. To tell the world, I felt this, I discovered this, I dreamt this …. did you too? We yearn to communicate to quell our loneliness. To assert our existence. I am here. I made this. It came from in me.

Sure, tell me you ❤️ it. Sure, give me 👍🏽. But that’s just a pale ghost of what I truly want. Which is to connect, to share, to join with you so that I won’t just vanish into the gloom, a faint, fading ripple.

And when I see what you make, read what you wrote, hear what you sing, I am made more complete. I am inspired. Your art becomes an ingredient dropped into the cauldron of my imagination. Our minds meld, and issue forth a new creation.

Jack and I agreed, sitting under the football game on the big screen TV, that it does matter. What we make does counts. Not because it is beautiful, or rare, or under the gavel at Christie’s but because we matter, our lives matter, and this is what we do.

To make art is to strip yourself naked and show some part of the world your scars and wrinkles and all you’ve learned as you earned them. With your art, you say, I’m not perfect, I’m not beautiful, and you don’t need to favorite me or share me or pay for me — but I am here, and I made this.

29 thoughts on “How to get naked.”

    1. Good for Jack and his choices and career, but there’s something I find pretty troubling in how you write this bit:
      “unlike a lot of his classmates, he doesn’t need to hustle to pay the rent, doesn’t need to suck up to gallery owners or teach art in grade school or sell prints on Etsy or scrounge for design and illustration assignments.”

      Like many making a living off art, I teach, I sell on Etsy and I take up design and illustration assignments. They’re all a necessary AND a chosen ( and liked) part of what I do, part of a big mix with making my own art but the tone of this sentence seems to suggest it’s a second best way?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Suhita:
        I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with or lesser about supporting yourself through a bunch of creative pursuits like you are doing. The fact that there are now so many ways for people to support themselves through art making is wonderful and I heartily endorse it.
        I simply meant that if you feel no need to supplement your income through art making, is there still a reason to make it? What motivates making and sharing besides earning?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I figured that, Danny, never thought you did mean it like that. But it does sound that way in how it’s worded.
          In the big picture of what you’re saying, and in what motivates art making and art sharing, Art making for me, loosey-goosey as it sounds, is something I must do. I can’t quite define for what: for happiness? maybe. To just be? closer, I think to the truth. Sharing depends on your personality. I like to share it keeps me connected in what is essentially a lonely process. Others see things in my art that I don’t and inform and expand it. Some say they learn from it, an added bonus for me. And to me, blogging helps put visual thinking into words. A difficult process for an artist, but one I personally find rewarding. Words are harder for me than pictures, and forcing myself to put some things in words helps me see stuff I don’t in pictures-only.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Great thoughts. So if you don’t chase galleries or sell on Etsy and you (and I) have tiny living spaces, what do you do with all the great stuff you accumulate. There’s my problem. LOL Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I agree with you and Jack.


  2. You are both fortunate to have each other as you both bring a lot to the table. Treasures of experience and dedication. I will add that there is an author by the name of Danny Gregory and his books, all of them, are a testament to what art has been for one man and the world he contributes to. Art saved your life Danny and made it a gift for the rest of us. I for one remember that whenever I get to thinking about relevance of what I am doing. I will also throw in “Art Can Make You Happy”. Thank you for sharing what has to be a wonderful part of a day.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Did you write this after climbing into my head and stealing my very thoughts? Look how well you put them down on “paper”. The highlight for me isn’t so much the “likes” although my ego does ❤️ them, but it’s more when I’ve created something that actually makes someone else happy. That’s my biggest bestest prize! That says success to me more than $. It’s having the ability to make someone else smile. Whether it’s a crazy photo of my cat, the silly words I write over my wonky drawings of people or the stitches I’ve sewn into a quilt … if it makes someone else smile then I feel my efforts are worth it. It’s validation that I’m not wasting my time. Of course all of those things have already made me smile, and that’s WHY I do it!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You’ve just “claimed” us all: those who were feeling disconnected, left out, worried they’d ever find their tribe, wondering the same why of it all. You’ve brought us all back into the fold. I hope everyone who has followed you in the past and those from the early days of SBS reads this today and once again feels that sense of belonging. Thanks, Danny!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting subject. I did an artist journal for 2018.. Month by month of what I saw or what happened in my yard, and neighborhood. I posted on IG for friends and family. and at request sent pix to friends and neighbors who requested them not on IG. When done for the year I said I’m not sure I’ll continue since it might be same ole..I was surprised at how many were upset..and got enjoyment out of my journaling even saving them to re read. A family member saying it gets him by week by week since he suffers from depression. So he saves all my pages. So I find I’ll continue since others enjoy it as much as I do. Good article. Art is good for everyone in some way. Be it drawing, painting or photographing. We touch each other in some way.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow. You nailed it again, Danny. You’ve hit a bullseye with this one for me. Thank you for putting our inner drive into the best of words. We all need to hear this, as artists. I felt that ‘ping’ or ‘pang’ very early in life and have been both fortunate and cursed. Its been my compass and I never know where its guiding me, except the answer has been clear when I get there. Loved this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So well expressed, Danny! Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It’s very encouraging! I find that when I’m doing everyday art, it makes me happy. When I’m not, something’s missing. It’s enriching to hear of other artists’ practices.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a great article. Thank you for writing it. I am one artist who struggles with sharing. I will do it every so often. I am an avid sketcher, that is I draw everyday and more than once a day. If I posted daily I would flood the airwaves. It would also take time away from creating art. When someone comments I like to respond. I also don’t want to think about “likes” and “thumbs up”. By not posting I escape It!. I do however like to respond and support other artists..comment on their art, encourage people and share the information I have gathered through my daily sketching.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This was and is a great conversation! I too have been pondering all of this myself lately…is it this time of year? January, new beginnings, reflecting on the past year, etc, etc….I’ve been in the process of making journals & have a nagging “why” or “what for” show up every so often…I shut it and just say I’m enjoying the process, it keeps me sane and breathing. It’s creating something tangible, whether I’ll use it or not, hopefully so. This article reminds me I’m not completely alone in this world, as there are days when I feel so. Thank you for sharing, I absolutely love your writings and conversations.


  10. OMG you referenced the theme song from the Mary Tyler Moore show! That was an awesome memory jolt and made by brain happy! Thanks for that. And an excellent contemplation and articulation of why we make art; always a interesting multi-faceted topic. Vacation and time with your son is working it’s magic.


  11. This is an amazing essay, and I want to take more time to reread it and ponder your serious exploration of the subject! For me I learned the main motives were “connecting more closely with others” “it’s fun and satisfying”. Thank you for your post!


  12. I often ask myself the same question. I like to doodle and sketch and I often wonder why. I don’t believe my art will take me anywhere professionally, and I don’t have an interest in sharing it on social media. I use my doodles to entertain my friends, laugh, and start conversations.


  13. Thanks for this provocative article. Maybe this is the question that haunts me the most – and I’ve been at this art thing for a long time. Maybe that onward search is the justifiable purpose in itself.


  14. I loved this. I am one of those all too many people who stopped heeding the artistic call come middle school… This essay made me feel like my old self. Thank you for the inspiration and this important perspective that’s not shared enough x


  15. WOW, a must-read for every artist!! Art for sale vs. art for art’s sake; what gets to be counted as art; why art is important, essential even.. I love how you navigate these questions. + “Being creative means always being a little dissatisfied…” — definitely food for thought! Thank you. 🙏


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