The Divine Dissatisfaction Of Making Art

May 12, 2021

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others” – Martha Graham


Martha Graham was a dancer and choreographer and this quote of hers is one of my all time favourites that I return to time and time again with regard to making art. 

I love her expression of ‘divine dissatisfaction’ as I think this really encompasses how I feel about making things, you might relate to it too. This sensation is the one that keeps me creating. It’s simultaneously frustrating and deeply enjoyable at the same time! 

One of the most tantalising things for me with the creative process is that moment when you have the idea, something inspires you and you go about fantasising about what your painting will look like. You’ve had an idea for an image and it is at this point that (for me anyway!) you feel anything is possible, this could be IT. It could be The Painting. But once you start working on it you will likely find it a struggle, like the moment you start trying to recall a dream and as soon as you do, the image starts to dissipate and drift away. You might spend days on working out the composition which you are trying to translate from your imagination onto paper. It can be so frustrating! That image in your head rarely looks the same when you’ve finally got it on the canvas. You’re left with a painting that you might be pleased with, but perhaps it’s not The Painting you were hoping for.

You will then go through the same process over and over again and each time you learn more and each time you create something slightly more proficient than the last. It’s unlikely you’ll see this in the moment but then you look back at something you made 5 years ago and you will be able to see the progression much more clearly. (I highly recommend this by the way, compare to past you, not to other artists!). 

This process/sensation is what drives me to keep making things. I don’t think I’d have the same compulsion to create if I wasn’t trying to chase this idea in my head and put it on paper! 

Of course sometimes it isn’t like harnessing a dream at all, once in a while you will pour yourself out onto the paper and it will feel like a direct channel from brain (universe?) to paper, but this is SO very rare. 

Do you experience this sensation? Do you think that Martha Graham’s quote has truth to it?



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