Why do I art?

I did a really fun interview recently with Jason Davis over at ROCKETGUT!, a blog about space and culture. He asked me about my motivation as an artist, and I was surprised that I had to think about it for a while. I haven’t been making serious “art” for all that long, and I guess my understanding of the role it plays in my life has developed gradually of the past few years. Other than space “being cool,” it was hard to articulate at first why I was motivated to do it. No one had ever asked me why I liked making things before.


(See how artistic this photo is? Ha. Kidding. Photography is not one of my many skills, and mirrors are far too advanced for me.)

My sister is an artist and a therapist, and she told me that the act of making releases dopamine (the accomplishment/reward chemical), seratonin (the pleasure chemical) and oxycotin (the bonding/trust chemical) in the brain. She prefers to think of this as magic, but of course I find the science itself fascinating. So clearly, making art makes me feel good, but while I usually prefer to think of things in scientific terms, this doesn’t really answer the more personal level of that question. But, I do think science is at least part of the answer, and I got there by going back to how much I’ve thought about the connections between science and art. It was a nice moment of self discovery. I copied here a [slightly edited] version of my interview response.

“I don’t really think of myself as studying objects in the solar system; rather, I study processes. My research interests lie primarily in understanding mechanical/physical processes that shape the surfaces of other worlds over time. These worlds have beautiful landscapes, sure, but it is the processes themselves that are beautiful to me. I like to understand the way that things work, and I’m drawn in by both the complexity of the puzzle and the elegance of its individual components. That being said, it isn’t simple to untangle all the different processes that are influencing the way a landscape evolves, or to understand the role each individual puzzle piece plays in creating the big picture. The complexity of all of this can be frustrating at times, but I think creating art that focuses on these objects helps me to process that. It isn’t that creating the art helps me understand these processes better in a factual sense, rather it helps me both understand and learn to navigate their complexity more effectively in my own brain.

The process of making science, the process of creating knowledge, naturally reflects the process of creating art. Everything that we observe about a planet is a convolution of its fundamental makeup and its past and present experiences. Some experiences leave marks that we can observe and interpret, others are erased. We only get the muddled end result of it all. This is fundamentally true about people, societies, and the world too. So when we create art, I think not only does the process of creation mirror the process of scientific exploration, but the product we produce reflects the complexity of our subject in both ways that are seen and unseen. So I guess when I create art, I see it as a form of exploration in parallel to my research. Through it, I explore my relationship to the subject of the art and to science, as well as to the artistic process, the art object, and myself.”

If that sounds a bit over academic to you, welcome to the inside of my brain. But that is kind of the point – I art because it helps me process and internalize complex ideas in a way that isn’t academic. The artwork I produce is not perfect, and neither is the way I make it. It’s messy, and no matter how precise and efficient I may try to be, often it simply isn’t those things. Yet, the objects that I create are beautiful and I understand how they came to be, imperfections and all. Ultimately I think this helps me to feel comfortable with not being able to completely describe or explain something, with not being in complete control or not always knowing everything. It helps me to appreciate the beauty of complexity without trying to articulate it, whether it’s in my own art or on the surface of another world.