Art and the Value of “Why”

by Eric Jackson

We are, all of us, artists. In making things, as simple as an outfit or as complex as a music composition, we are engaging in the creation of art. It may be easy to reject or dismiss the idea that you’re an artist but whether you recognize it yet or not, you are.

At the core of creating any art lies a simple idea: one should always find the value in asking “why.” For example, in the first stages of planning a juggling routine you have to decide what tricks to put into it, what costume you’ll wear, what music you’ll play, how long it will be, and even what narrative you’re attempting to convey. With each choice you make, you should ask yourself “why?” This questioning determines whether or not your art will have significance to its viewer. “Why” is the most powerful tool in a person’s arsenal when it comes to creating meaningful art.

It is often said that all art is a reflection of the artist and the culture in which they were raised. If your goal is to create art that will spark a dialogue, it’s critical to remember this, that no art is in a vacuum. Consider how your creation fits into and connects with this world and the world of art that already exists. Is your work about life, love, bullying, loneliness, drug addiction, suicide? Is it a technical composition exploring only one concept, such as a color, a relationship between two objects, or a unique manipulation of a prop? If you’re creating a painting, writing a song, or composing a juggling routine, in what ways is your work similar to what has come before, and in what ways do they differ? It’s alright to acknowledge that these questions may not matter to you with every routine, or hold any personal relevance to what you are trying to create, but understand that these are questions that will need to be addressed if you want your creation to start a dialogue.

In the case of juggling, think about every time you’ve seen a classic circus-style routine with a pose that follows every trick sequence. The juggler may have incredible technical skill and may execute the performance flawlessly, but besides that, what is there to talk about regarding the content of that work? Was their presentation unique? Were the tricks never-before-seen? Did it act to parody any element of this archetypal style of performance? Often, what is presented seeks to emulate more than it seeks to innovate. This can be perfectly fine of course, but always consider what the goal of the artist is when creating their work: is it important to evolve the medium in any appreciable way, or to simply capture the essence of a classic style of presentation? Both as the audience and as the performer, injecting “why” into the conversation sparks the flame of critical thinking and emboldens us to dig deeper.

Compared to the many other forms of art, juggling is quite unique. Though accounts of it date back to antiquity, the artistic evolution of juggling is young when compared with the many thousands of years that painting, sculpture, music, and dance have undergone. A common thread between all art is the way it’s been challenged as a medium before adopting their modern form. The process asserts that any given art form has rules, and these rules dictate the production and methodology of the art, until they are challenged. For nearly all kinds of art, the last one-hundred years has seen every established rule done away with, which has upended the paradigm and ushered in a new era of artistic creation. Contemporarily, we accept that a musical composition can possess no music (John Cage – 4’33 – 1952), a completely erased painting can be a drawing (Robert Rauschenberg – Erased De Kooning Drawing – 1953), and excluding art from one’s life can be its own art piece (Tehching Hsieh – One Year Performance – 1985-86). Almost every kind of art form has had many millions of artists approach it from every direction for hundreds of years, all to push them towards the modern state, flush with new ideas, opinions, and approaches which continue to evolve and grow. What sets modern juggling apart from these other art forms isn’t that it’s any less important, or undeserving of the title of “high-art”, but for juggling that period of challenging the rules is still happening. The Renaissance of juggling is happening now, and we are lucky enough to be included in it. As we continue to create and consume art, we can trust that juggling will also develop into a state where artists take greater chances, make bolder decisions, and break rules in order to continue to force us to answer questions like, “What is juggling?” and “Why is this important?”

Whether we’re discussing the definition of juggling, attaching an artistic filter to existing work, or simply observing something for its aesthetic quality, we should look to acknowledge the artistic merit in everything we aim to create, whether it’s intended for just personal consumption or targeted for a more commercial release. Even if you aren’t seeking to create high art, asking questions and finding answers is the fastest way to take your work to the next level, and no question is more well-suited for improving art than the question of why. “Why” may seem like a simple question, but it can be one of the most complex, deep, and philosophical questions you can ask. Doing so will invariably uncover the answer that will act as the backbone for the entire piece, supporting every decision from the initial idea all the way through till the final execution. Art is the reflection of the artist, and the world in which they live. We as artists must endeavor to make art worth reflecting upon.

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