posted on Apr 12, 2020
Art With Purpose by Maxx Burman
Why do we do art? That’s right, I said it. What’s the point? (We’re gonna get deep here.) This question has resurfaced time and time again throughout my career as I struggled to find meaning and purpose in the art I was creating. I spent so much of my career forcing myself to keep painting long after the thrill or desire to create was gone. At the peak of my matte painting career, I was doing around 200 paintings a year, all of which started to blend together into one heap of emotionless, valueless (art)work that I was doing for a paycheck.
While I was caught in that endless loop of client work, time flew by and I didn’t realize that eight years had passed and I hadn’t done a single personal painting. Art was no longer a hobby; it had become my full-blown career. My reason for painting was purely income, plain and simple. And if that sounds horrible to some artists out there, let me clarify: I was making a fantastic income whilst doing epic paintings for the biggest films and video games, but creatively there was something missing.
As I rose through the ranks in the VFX industry, the lack of fulfillment grew like a giant black hole. I kept chasing larger salaries, more important sounding job titles, bigger projects – all to fill that hole. When that didn’t work, I thought that I wanted a larger sense of creative contribution on a project, somewhere to leave my mark and feel proud. The more I wanted to contribute in that sense, the more disappointing projects became. I’d put everything I had into some painting or design, and a bad client note would bring the whole thing crashing down. I’m sure many of you have experienced this.
I realized that I was doing nobody any good on these projects, so I decided to step away. I left the studio system to take a long sabbatical in the summer of 2016. I started a series of personal paintings called Disconnect. My goal was simple: create the work that nobody would let me create.
During this time, I focused on rekindling my passion for art. I wanted to rediscover why I had fallen in love with it in the first place. I experienced a huge growth spurt as I challenged myself to learn new software, explore new ideas and techniques. I started to enjoy painting again. I’d wake up with clear ideas in my head for paintings I needed to do. Yes, needed. It’s like they were bottled up inside of me and they would consume me until I realized the vision. Through the process of creating Disconnect, I found a new purpose for myself: self-expression and growth.
As we continue to hone our craft, we are able to express ourselves more clearly through art. We become more in tune with the world around us, and we find our voice. With the ability to convey what we feel, we become clearer and more connected to ourselves. My personal paintings revolved around self-reflection, often revealing a mood or emotion that I didn’t even realize was happening until I looked at it objectively within an image. I was also connecting with others who had experienced that emotion, a feeling that didn’t have words to describe.
My sabbatical did not last long. Tempting jobs and clients started reacting to my new work, and started approaching me for the styles and themes I had been exploring on my own.
When I finally went back to doing client work, my mentality had shifted drastically. I approached every commercial project with the understanding that this was not my art. I was being hired to create someone else’s vision, and...that was okay.
By losing the expectation that my client work was a creative outlet for my own ideas, I stopped being disappointed. Now when I took on client work, it was to make the client happy. It was a service job, and I was going to provide the best service possible. This approach allowed me to enjoy client work so much more, and the rewards gave me more time and freedom to pursue my own artistic visions.
At this point, I was feeling better about my connection to art and my new purpose with it, but I didn’t wake up with a feeling of fulfillment. I had no clue where to look next or how art could bring me this abstract thing I was longing for. I thought, maybe I’m asking too much of art, maybe I should take everything it’s given me, be grateful for it, and look in other places of life for fulfillment. The problem was, I had dedicated my life to art, and before I was going anywhere else, I wanted to see if it could give me everything I wanted.
Around this time, I started working on a course with Learn Squared. When I released it and saw the onslaught of matte painting work that students created, I was blown away. I felt really good. I felt like I had a small hand in helping a ton of other artists on their journeys.
A couple of months later, I was asked to speak at a conference in Croatia (IFCC). I tried my best to convey all the things I wish I could have heard ten years ago when I was starting out, and it resonated with people. Artists came up to me afterwards and expressed how much the speech affected them. It gave me a weird feeling. It was better than any feeling I’ve experienced after doing a painting. It was the feeling of contribution.
Being able to connect with people through art, contribute something to them, help others grow and evolve in their artistic journeys; that was fulfilling. I became addicted to it. I wanted to find more ways to create that feeling.
A couple of months later, Banks Boutté and I launched KitBash3d. Our mission: to enable and inspire artists. I started focusing my creative efforts on building the tools that would help artists convey their ideas and express themselves.
We started throwing events like the KitBash3d Festival and the KB3D contests and started seeing thousands of paintings being created with our kits. We watched as an amazing community started to grow, fueled by people all over the world with a shared passion, supporting each other to grow as artists. All of this led me to find a new layer of human connection, something that ran much deeper. Art became less about me expressing myself, but helping others express themselves.
So, what is the purpose of art? I believe that art can provide for all of our needs if we are deliberate about how we pursue it. Through my journey, art has served many purposes. It’s given me an income, the stability of a comfortable life. It’s given me a tool for self-expression, allowing me to convey ideas and emotions. And it’s given me the ability to contribute to something larger than myself, to help other artists on their journeys.
But in the end, the greatest thing that art gave me, was a way to connect to others. The real question is: do you know why you are pursuing art?