Make Art Not War

Our advisor, Beth Heinly, tackles the age-old question, Why Make Art? She gets pretty heated about it all, but through it all is clear about her message that Art is what makes us Human, and separates us from the animals.

Image source Shaun Botterill/Getty Images, Edit Beth Heinly.
Image source Shaun Botterill/Getty Images, Edit Beth Heinly.

A reader I’ll call ‘What’s it all mean?’ asks…

Why should anyone care about art? I know this question seems big and dumb but I rarely hear artists share serious thoughtful answers or even discuss at length. I ask because everyday I think about how the world would be better served if I stopped making art and became a nurse, a social worker, or a teacher. I guess I’m trying to validate my artistic career that often feels like a selfish inflated hobby in a world that needs real action for serious problems.

— What’s it all mean?

As I’m starting to write this answer to you ‘What’s it all mean?’ I’m smiling back at an image of Pussy Riot member Olga Kurachyova, wearing a police uniform being carried off field during the World Cup Final between France and Croatia in what is stated to be a protest in remembrance of the 11th anniversary of Russian poet Dmitri Prigov’s death. You can read Pussy Riot’s full statement here – but basically it’s performance art about – FUCK THE POLICE.


Hey, it’s my art advice blog and I can be way harsh if I want to. Dmitri Prigov was a poet and artist who was incarcerated in a Soviet psychiatric hospital for making his art. His performances were considered a sort of “social protest”. Pussy Riot pays tribute to the artist in performing in costume as “heavenly policemen” – an imagined hopeful figure from Prigov’s poem about a Soviet policeman.

I might go on here about the significance of a feminist-performance-art-activist-punk-rock group (do not attempt to say this outloud at a public panel discussion), streaking in protest fully clothed at a football, ok soccer, tournament, as opposed to what is traditionally pictorially depicted, nudes (usually men) streakers with pixelated penii. But this is not just about Pussy Riot. This is about making fucking art.

Sorry for cursing, I’m hype. But why do you think the Soviet Union or any fascist (Donald Trump) government might go through the expense of imprisoning artists?


Art inspires people! Making art expresses the epitome of freedom of speech! *uhg insert hand clapping emoji* We were born to push the boundaries of, well, boundaries. And no, your artwork does not need to be some grandiose political statement to be important or useful. Art should never be useful imho because being useful connotes staying within the boundaries instead of breaking them.

All my books are packed up for a move, atm, but one of Steve Martin’s books (uh, I’m pretty sure it was “Born Standing Up” but probably all of them, the man loves art) talks about the intimacy of owning a work of art that is purely about appreciating a work of art. Martin discusses this moment as the realization of becoming an adult. The artwork being a real object among everything else in his apartment. Trust me, ‘What’s It all Mean,’ pretty much any Steve Martin book will bring you back up from your artist existential crisis. Cruel Shoes. I’ll go one book further and suggest reading Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” which offers a microcosmic viewpoint in nature sure to relieve you of your existential art woes. If you haven’t read them already. Re-read them.

Martin is conveying the emphasis of sophistication that is inherent to the human experience. A moment that artists have the vision to bring to light. Art is what separates us from the animals, man.


‘What does it all mean?’ – if you are questioning that your art is “a selfish inflated hobby” that’s just your inner artist begging you to cause some trouble. Listen to the voice. Artists protest, create change, rally – just as well as any nurse, social worker or teacher. I mean your protest sign will probably look better than everyone else’s, but don’t rub it in – ok? When it comes to drawing the battle lines for justice, freedom, free healthcare, uniting families, asylum, being uncivil, civil rights, universal income, police brutality, legalize marijuana – we are all equal and valuable to the fight. Except our Senate obviously.

Oh god, are you gonna make me mention Guernica? I don’t want to. Giorgio Morandi painting vases in Europe during World War II? Am I right? Honestly, the best World War II porn is Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair”. One time I saw a Kurt Vonnegut quote on (quit) Facebook that stated that, above all things, what a person could do with their life that was worthwhile is make art. Excuse me, hold up, wHoa, white males. Random social activist female identifying artists and a writer who have done just that: Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Judy Chicago, Cao Fei, Yoko Ono, Zoe Leonard, Octavia Butler.

I guess what I’m saying here, WIAM, is you gotta grab art by the balls. Don’t be such a pussy…riot.

(You see what I did there was use a sports euphemisms to bring us full circle in closing.)


Beth I’m Considering Maybe My Use of Parentheses is a Crutch

Ed. Note: Here’s a glossary of acronyms used in this piece:
Atm – At The Moment
Imho – In My Humble Opinion
WIAM – What’s It All Mean