Why I Create Art in Public (and you should too)

“Elephant” ink and alcohol marker

It was a treat to visit The American Museum of Natural History in New York after BookCon 2019, and thankfully Marlena was happy to give me space and time to sketch some of the beautiful exhibits. I got a chance to sit under this taxidermy elephant and really spend time focusing on the small details of toenails and skin folds, noting the planes of light and shadow, and contemplating how long it had stood in the museum.

A school field trip was going on at the time, and a number of kids came over to watch me draw. They must have been 9 or 10 years old, talking loudly and laughing until they came to watch me work.

I think it’s important that kids see art in the making like that. It makes art normal and fosters appreciation for the creativity we’re surrounded by everywhere we go.

I remember watching art all the time when I was a kid, from baking to needlework to painting and piano playing. I developed my passion for the arts from that exposure — not just from viewing a finished product, but from watching the creative process in action. Looking back, I realize just how lucky I was. Not every kid has the benefit of family and friends who exercise creativity openly, are willing to answer questions about it, and don’t mind being observed.

An opinion piece in The New York Times tackled it pretty plainly even though the essay focuses on public art like a public installation or sculpture: Art needs to be seen, and seeing art is a critical part of making art. The public reaction, positive or negative, is essential in the fundamental strength and (I’d argue) purpose of art itself:

“The public role in public art is essential to the artist. People enliven a work, are inspired and intrigued, motivated and provoked.”

Creating and displaying art in public is stressful for many reasons. However also an act of rebellion, moving from passive consumption to active creation. It’s good to get used to letting people watch the art process. The kids who watched me draw whispered their thanks before leaving, embarrassed that they’d been watching. Hopefully, that moment watching art in action will stick with them.

Do you have moments you remember watching someone create? How did it effect you?


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3 thoughts on “Why I Create Art in Public (and you should too)

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