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Why Do We, Humans, Create Art?

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Image by Elliott Erwitt

It’s a curious thing. Human beings have advanced incredibly in the past few thousand years. Our technology allowed us to conquer the entire world time and time again, using ingenious human creations to defeat one another in war, trade and even politics. There seem to be no limits to our practical innovation, and we harness that useful, functional ability to achieve incredible things.

But what about art? Music? Paintings made of human hair? The side-projects we devote our lives to between work and sleep don’t fit this mercilessly practical nature that’s jumped us to the top of the food chain. How can a people so practically-minded devote hours, days or even lifetimes to the creation of something…”useless”?

To Tell Stories

Image: Berlin Wall near check point Charlie

Storytelling is older than any human language, and it remains an integral part of almost every social interaction we have today. Catching up, reminiscing and trading anecdotes are a large part of how we socialize and have been for thousands of years. Roman legionaries would tell ribald tales to bolster spirits, and ancient Egyptian merchants would craft wonderful fallacies to boost their prices.

But we’ve been using art, song, poetry, and drama to tell stories for about as long. Not everyone is a majestic wordsmith and orator, and often we create in order to spread histories, messages, and tales which we can’t quite put into words. Narrative art is an obvious example, but all forms of expression can be used to tell a good story.

For Beauty, Laughter, and Sorrow

Image by Elliott Erwitt

Laying our eyes on something beautiful — whether that’s a partner, wildlife or a glowing sunset — always strikes an emotional chord within us. Like a drug or a fine wine, it can make us feel something approaching euphoria and it’s only natural that we’d try to replicate that in our spare time.

But this desire to recreate endorphin-fueling reactions isn’t limited to beauty; we dedicate ourselves to creating merriment, sadness, despair, jealousy — the most stunning piece of art or heartrending piece of music often exists just for that simple, subtle purpose of being a symbol of human emotion.

And it’s not just about ourselves, either. Comedians don’t spend years writing a show just to pass the time; they do it to bring that hilarity to the hearts of everyone who sees their show. The same goes for musicians, craftsmen, writers, and creatives of every kind — it connects us with others.

Personal Enjoyment and Fulfillment

Image of A. Giacometti by H. Cartier-Bresson

We like doing things that make us feel good. Running that half-marathon or eating an entire tub of ice cream in one sitting — if your only motivation is to make yourself feel happy or fulfilled, then it’s a damn good one.

The same is true for making things. There’s a strong stereotype that artists never make a penny, living near the streets in hand-me-down rags and eating dust bunnies; if the creative lifestyle is so financially unprofitable, then why do we all pursue it? The answer is that the satisfaction of making something with your own hands, brain and equipment offers you something more than mere banknotes.

But it’s not just the end result that pleases us. Hemingway reputedly said “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end,” and that’s what we see with our creative hobbies and distractions. You can forget about the stress of work or how annoying your dodgy WiFi connection is, and immerse yourself in something greater.

Creation transports us to a new world for just a little while, and perhaps that’s a good enough reason.

What about you? Why do you think that we, humans, create?

This article was first published at


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