Balancing the public and private in art making

I used to make art just for myself. Writing and drawing ever since I was a kid.

I tried writing my first (and so far my last) novel in Primary School. I was in grade 5. It was 2 whole pages long and in my rounded erratic handwriting that was an opus. It was terribly earnest and it sweetly pains me now to think of how serious and urgent it felt. It wasn’t for class – I wrote a cheesy story about a caterpillar for the assignment – banged it out quickly and used the rest of the time to plumb the depths of my operatic feelings for the nature story I was writing about in my novel. It was for me – me and one day for the world – but certainly not for my teacher.

As an adult in my 30s I started making zines, as a way to express myself to myself. I had journaled for myself and my own healing and sense making for a long time but this was different. These were made for me – and the world – I knew that I would like to share them eventually, as to have them seen and read by others was an intimate act of expression and acceptance that I longed for. I had years of making pictures only to stuff them in shoeboxes, and it had started to feel like I was neglectful of them, like I was not honouring them properly. I felt a pull from the inside to the outside world, like it was time to share what I made. This happened at the same time I started personal blogging, and other pull from the inside to the outside world. I stretched outwards to people and braved sharing my thoughts and impressions with others.

But back to the zines – I wrote and drew them for a long time before I found the courage to head to the photocopiers and create copies to share. I sent them unsolicited to a few trusted friends. Eventually I sold them in a cute and niche bricks and mortar zine shop. I trusted that only the true believers would stumble across my work. I felt safe with my few copies hidden away in this little space with other off-beat, quirky, personal, low fi outpourings.

By setting them free and having them read I moved my boundaries a little. I trusted the world a little more. I owned the sad or confused or messy or complaint parts of myself a little more. I felt witnessed, I felt accepted.

Meanwhile I had been weaving community arts and art making into my work. A little here, a little there. I joined a few group exhibitions. I taught and ran workshops. Still shy of selling I gave away pieces to friends and strangers. A thread running alongside my full time professional career in sustainability.

Time moved on.

I eventually found the online world. Art groups! Challenges! Giving away art! Sharing photos! It was a giddy expansion of possibility. People who loved drawing and painting and mixed media and.. And… And… Not ‘professional’ artists but people who make art to make them feel more alive and whole and happy no matter what else they are committed to doing for work or family or life. What fun! I built my confidence, sharing timidly at first and then more and more.

I even created my own online group for a special kind of mixed media collaborative art making. And it was and continues to be great – make – share! Make – share! Make – photograph – post!

But just recently I noticed that I had stopped making art just for me, writing just for me. Where were the ‘ugly’ and awkward and expressive paintings? Where were the journal pages? Where were the inky art rambles and side projects that I made with no intention to photograph, or to share or to add to my social media profiles? And I felt emptier for it.

There is a story that art is for other people. That to be ‘useful’ and earn its keep in the world it must be pretty and proudly displayed on someone’s mantle, or edgy and ‘important’ and loved by critics and the academy.

But I know for me, what I make wants sometimes to be shared and sometimes to be private.

Too much making for me without sharing to the world I feel hidden and voiceless, I feel sad and mute. I feel despair that what I make has any place in the world or will ever be loved by anyone other than me. I feel all soul and no ego to carry it triumphantly into the world.

Too much sharing to the world without making just for me and I feel dried up, inauthentic, robotic and hollow. I feel farmed out to the cause of the ego, used up and sold to the highest bidder. I feel all ego peddling its wares and no soul to feed me and bring real honest expression forward.

A balance, yin and yang. For me, for the world. For no purpose, for a purpose. Intrinsic value, value because someone else likes it. To heal me, to heal others. A gift received, a gift given.

I hope to stay aware of these cycles of more public and more private domains in art making in my life, and notice how I switch between the two, creating a changing rhythm that suits my needs.

Is this something that you have experienced as well?
Are you very inwards and not yet confident sharing?
Are you always sharing and not yet comfortable making for its own pleasure?

Do you have a different opinion about the public and private and art making?

Image: J.Herriman 2014, oil pastel on book cover


To work with me on your creative projects book in for a free 30 minute discussion call to see whether coaching, art therapy, or some combination might help you connect with your wise, wild, abundant creative self. I work with people around the world on bringing their ideas to life, and giving their dreams physical form.

If you’d like to build your confidence in sharing your visual art work with others I have a series of mixed media art workshops coming up on Saturdays in Sydney that might appeal. See more HERE. 

2 thoughts on “Balancing the public and private in art making

  1. I totally agree Jade! Whether it’s art or writing (or any creative work for that matter), I think there’s always a balance between creating for other people and creating for ourselves (and just for the pure joy of it). Yes, it’s important to create for other people and with them in mind, but it’s also important to tap into that space where we create only for ourselves.

    I love this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    Creating for yourself plays a big part in that 🙂

  2. This speaks to me Jade… I understand it and have experienced it with writing and blogging.

    I used to write diaries and journal entries for me and eventually I picked up enough courage to start my own little blog. No one really read it but it didn’t matter and it wasn’t the point, the point was that it felt important that it was ‘out there’. Eventually I made my own website and had the confidence to share things with the world. This however has given me the courage to write other types and styles of things, there’s a novel in the works (kind of) that I never would have imagined writing before, along with ideas for studies and poetry, which may never see the light of day and so at the moment they’re just for me.

    Having developed in this way, I’m now keen to re-explore my artistic talents which got ‘suppressed’ years ago. It feels like it needs to be done as part of some self-expression journey I need to have, but at this stage I’d not feel confident about sharing them with the world, it’s still too personal for me…

    So yes, I do know what you mean. 🙂

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