“Just Make Stuff”

There are Artists… and then there are People Who Call Themselves Artists. There are people who do Art without calling themselves an Artist, of course… and there are people who call themselves an Artist without doing capital A Art. Is it enough to just ‘create, create, create’ without, for example, having a deep understanding of why you are making things or what the context of those ‘creations’ are or even without a ‘quality control filter’ in place?

Just taking a blurry photo on your iPhone and making it black and white doesn’t mean you’re a Photographer.

I sometimes see people almost fetishising the idea of ‘being a creative’ and believing that ‘creating something’ is more important that ‘creating something good.’ [1]And equating ‘being a creative’ with ‘being a better person than you’, but that is a different conversation… It’s as if the act of ‘creating’ is the end result, not the ideas behind it nor even the thing that was created. Now… I do think this can be very important at times. Just like with writing, sometimes – eg if you have writer’s block- it is better to just write anything rather than to stop yourself from writing because you ‘can’t write anything good’… so just making anything can help you get over an artist’s block… This is a kind of ‘creating as therapy’, I guess.


In my experience, ‘just creating something’ is a very different thing to ‘making Art’. I can work on the rug that I designed and am hand tufting; I can work on the portrait of one of my favourite comedians that I’m painting [2]and will be rubbish, so it will sit unseen in my studio like a bunch of other paintings; I can do some linoprints; I can do some visible mending of my clothes… they are all ‘creating anything’, but I don’t consider a single one of them as capital A Art. Now I’m NOT saying that rug-making, portrait painting, linoprinting, visible mending aren’t creative nor that they are not and can never be Art- that would be a ridiculous statement and it’s annoying that I would have to point that out- but these things *I* am ‘creating’ have absolutely nothing to do with *my* Art.

‘Creating’ can also just be ‘making a bunch of junk to fill up the world’, too… This is where the ‘quality control filter’ comes in. There are loads and loads of things I’ve ‘created’ that have never and will never see the light of day (See previous statement about the portrait I’m painting). They are, imho, shit. Why would I ever need to show them to anyone? To believe that EVERYTHING I create – whether it’s a painting or a thought- is so important or valuable that I have to release it into the world is no different to a toddler being super excited she’s ‘made a poo-poo’ in her potty.

Why is it that some people who have never had qualms or dilemmas about calling themselves an artist are the often ones who produce things that “clearly-haven’t-been-through-any-kind-of-quality-control-filter”? Terribly traced digital images of lighthouses uploaded and available to print on demand. Christmas decorations made with glue and glitter on a styrofoam ball available to buy on Etsy. ‘Hand lettered’ wood-burned signs to put next to your front door made by someone whose handwriting is worse than mine. All made by self-declared ‘artists’.

“What do you mean by ‘capital A Art’ though?” Good question, imaginary reader, good question.

Art without meaning is just decoration. The art is in the idea. – Rick Rubin

For me Art is about creating a response to Being Human. If gluing glitter on a styrofoam ball is a ‘response to Being Human’, then I’d love to read about that. For someone, it genuinely might be and they may have a huge amount to say about it… but for most people making glitter balls to sell in the run up to Christmas, they won’t be theoretical or philosophical explorations of existence nor will they be expressions of the human condition. They will be a way to make money. (Again fine, but that’s business not capital A Art.)

“What about Picasso though? Eh? Eh? He painted awesome stuff! He didn’t have all this nonsense, book-readin’ ‘theory’ behind him, did he?!” Again, good question, pretend person.

Picasso was a painter, not a capital A Artist.

“What the hell are you on about?! He is The Most Important Artist!!!! How dare you!!!”

Again Picasso was a painter. I’m not a painter and don’t know much about painting, but I’m sure he probably is important to *painting*… but capital A Art? Nope.

“Literally, I want you to die!!!!!” Wow. You’re a really big Picasso fan.

Picasso is a great painter. I used to think he was the best when I was 16. Cubism, along with Dada and Surrealism, was important culturally. And I’d agree that Picasso is important to, well, non-artists… but if you were to draw a line from contemporary capital A Art today back through history looking at The Artists That Meant Something To Those Who Followed Them, it’s highly unlikely that you would touch Picasso… The only artist from that time period really worth caring about is Marcel Duchamp. He invented capital A Art. (This is 100% uncontroversial.)

But… OK… you like Picasso. Fiiiiine. I’ll humour you and believe for the sake of argument that Picasso has something to so with capital A Art. Now… Draw me a line from Glitter Balls back through the great artists of history to Picasso. What’s the journey?

That journey – either forwards or backwards through time – matters and if you can’t make it, then maybe what you’re doing isn’t capital A Art.

I think this goes for other media, too. Just because you take photos on an iPhone and some of your friends like them on Instagram, doesn’t mean you’re a Photographer. Just because you are doing a podcast doesn’t mean you are a Broadcaster (see also: your YouTube output doesn’t make you a TV Producer, your blog doesn’t make you a Writer, your Goodreads submissions doesn’t make you a Book Reviewer etc etc)…

Making stuff is important. It’s how we influence the world. But take a moment to ask yourself ‘Why?” Why am I making this stuff? If your answer hovers around ‘I want to make money’ or ‘It relaxes me’, I’d suggest that you are not doing capital A Art, but are instead are doing ‘business’ or ‘therapy’… both of those things are perfectly acceptable pursuits and can bring comfort or money to pay your bills, but the reasons and the processes behind them are different to capital A Art.

Related to this is the endless reams of stuff people create online. If you are more concerned with spewing out “content” – endless Facebook posts, Tweets, YouTube videos, TikTok videos, blogposts and on and on – and are entirely unconcerned with the content of that “content”, then I’d suggest that you are, at the very least, in an unhealthy state of mind chasing likes, follows and upvotes. You are not ‘a creative’. You are attempting to build a brand.

So… what can you do about it? First, you have to commit to being honest with yourself. Until you can do that, you can’t start the next step. Make that promise to yourself right now: ‘I will be honest with Me.’

No skipping ahead. Do it.

Second, ask yourself why do you feel anyone needs to see, hear or think every little thing you make, think or write? Ask yourself why- exactly- you are doing what you are doing. Be very honest. You promised yourself, remember? Is it to earn some extra money? To make your parents (finally) proud of you? To make your friends think you are ‘interesting’? To get a lot of followers on Instagram? To tell stories that need to be told? To just not be… bored? To relax? To try and create an emotional response about Being Human in others? What is the connection between what you are doing and what others have done before you (no, you absolutely are not a solitary genius who hasn’t been influenced by anyone)? Who has done similar things before you? What can you learn from what they did? What changes do you need to make in order to be as good as they were? Do you care more about quantity over quality? Would you continue doing what you are doing if absolutely no one would see the result?

Once you answer a question, ask yourself ‘Why?’ Then keep asking yourself these kinds of questions and asking yourself why until you get to the answer ‘Because being alive completely blows my fucking mind’.

Good. You’ve taken your very first step to being an Artist.


1 And equating ‘being a creative’ with ‘being a better person than you’, but that is a different conversation…
2 and will be rubbish, so it will sit unseen in my studio like a bunch of other paintings