why do we make art?

Art is part of what makes us human.   Our species, homo sapiens, originated in Africa.   We began to migrate around the world.  In 50,000 years, a mere blink of the eye in terms of the history of life on Earth, we spread across the globe.  In spite of ice ages and droughts, we colonized almost every climate on Earth in only 2500 human generations.  How could we accomplish this?  Other man-like species before us were bipedal and capable of making tools just as we are, but they did not reach the ends of the earth in our numbers.

The change was in our brains.. a mutation occurred which made our brains grow larger and be more interconnected than that of any other prior species.  It gave us new reasoning ability that enabled us to step beyond the need to gather food and to find shelter.  We began to see that we could improve our environment by building and heating shelter, and we could anticipate winter and save food for lean times.  We learned how things grow and how to cultivate our food, and how to preserve it.  We learned to trade with others for things we needed.  And thus we 'modern' humans, as we are pleased to call ourselves, evolved.  And we moved into once marginal places by using our intellect and skill to adapt to new challenges we faced.

While we were evolving to understand and manage our world, our new innate reasoning ability was doing more than satisfying our basic needs.  It enabled us to learn why things are the way they are, and to wonder at the world around us.   What are stars?  Where does the sun go at night?  What is death?  Where will mom be when she is no longer here with us?

Jomon Pottery, Japan    textured and colored     10,000 to 12,000 years old

We began to discuss these ideas, to develop and tell our origin stories, to argue our views and express ourselves in words and in our skills with the tools and clothing we made.  We were no longer content with plain pottery, but added texture, design and color.  We embellished our appearance according to our customs, to seem more ferocious or more beautiful.  We began to sing, to dance and to paint.  We developed our faiths to comfort ourselves and strengthen our ability to deal with the inexplicable tragedies of life.  As our cultures grew, we became more social and more interdependent, and this was an adaptation of nature that helped insure our survival, by keeping us strong enough to fight off adversity and enemy cultures.     And the dual nature of humans was reinforced... we reason about our world and express ourselves about it in all the ways we can.

Chauvet Cave, France          lion panel            painting more than 30,000 years old

I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for...
— Georgia O'Keefe

Now we are entering a new phase in human history.  We begin to see that we humans are all one family, much more closely related to each other than to any other species in our world.  As we lose our fears of cultures and customs strange to us, we can appreciate the beauties created by those cultures and the common ground we share in hopes for our children and our futures.  We have reached the point in our evolution to transition from fighting other cultures to cooperating with them.  

And a dark side is growing, in that we humans have succeeded to the extent that our planet is being changed because of us.  If we don’t respond and cooperate, we will make our world inhospitable to our children and grandchildren.  We are beginning to see that our survival actually depends on our ability to put our differences aside and find solutions to overcrowding, global warming and overuse of our planet that can ultimately kill us all.  Time will tell if we can take advantage of our diversity, apply it to our common problems, and find solutions that allow us to survive.  We will need every bit of our ability to reason and to communicate creatively in order to preserve our world and enable future generations to thrive.

Just as the ability to reason varies from person to person, so does the ability for artistic expression.  But all of us have the basic compulsion to express ourselves.. from how we dress, to how we decorate, from the tattoos on our arms to the cock of our hats.. it is all the basic human drive to willingly do more than is necessary in order to say something to each other about ourselves..