The Joy of Making

By guest blogger Laura Barth Turner

I’ve always been a maker- this could come from my family history (we are bakers, musicians, and engineers- what a combo!), or it could come from years of Montessori school- I’ll never be sure.

All I do know is that given the option, I will make something rather than buy it- because I so enjoy the MAKING part. I went through a lot of versions of this growing up- I did ballet for years, then I tried drawing and painting, and when I finally realized I was just painting from photographs, I decided to skip the middle man, and focus on photography. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Photography, and more specifically, the making and observing parts of it, create a certain kind of calm for me (someone who has had a lifelong struggle with anxiety)- it’s something psychologists call “flow,” and which has been studied as a legitimate means of processing complex emotional states. I literally couldn’t stay sane without it.


I studied photography in college, and eventually went on to pursue my MFA in the subject- that is where I learned about the dark side of creative pursuits, and also of teaching. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic book Big Magic, she sums up that dark side like this, with an anecdote about a young writer, and the book she was afraid to write:

Katie writes like a dream. But she told me that she’d gotten blocked from her work for several years because of something a writing professor had said to her: “Unless you are emotionally uncomfortable while you are writing, you will never produce anything of value.” Now, there’s a level at which I understand what Katie’s writing professor might have been trying to say. [] But to suggest that nobody ever made valuable art unless they were in active emotional distress is not only untrue, it’s also kind of sick. But Katie believed it. [] Katie took those words to heart and came to embrace the notion that if her creative process wasn’t bringing her anguish, then she wasn’t doing it right. No blood, no glory, right?

The book she wanted to write seemed so cool, so twisted, and so strange that she thought it might genuinely be fun to do it. In fact, it seemed like so much fun, it made her feel guilty. Because if something was a pleasure to write, then it couldn’t possibly have any artistic value, could it?

Far too many creative people have been taught to distrust pleasure and to put their faith in struggle alone. Too many artists still believe that anguish is the only truly authentic emotional experience.

Eventually, I am happy to report, she broke through that mental obstacle and finally wrote her book. And, no, it was not necessarily easy to write, but she did have a great time writing it. And yes, it is brilliant. What a pity, though, to have lost all those years of inspired creativity—and only because she didn’t believe her work was making her miserable enough! Yeah. Heaven forbid anyone should enjoy their chosen vocation.


So yeah, academia almost killed my creative spirit. Notice that I said “almost.” The upside is, when I started teaching after grad school, I was able to re-access my previous joy of making through my students. I love helping them tease out their ideas, test different directions for their projects, try and fail, and eventually succeed. It’s easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and it has the added bonus of bringing joy to students who have also, sadly, learned that to make art, you must suffer. Another side bonus- I am often inspired by my students to continue to make my own work. They bring ME inspiration, too – it’s a two way street.


And here’s the thing – that myth about the tortured artist?  it’s just not true. Not for me, and not for a lot of people. Making work can and should bring you joy, and I, for one, can only make good work when I’m happy.

My partner and I took a cross country road trip this summer, and while the 17 hour driving days were killers, seeing and photographing the beauty of the American West was magical. Watching the sunrise in the desert, seeing mountains eclipsed by forest fire smoke at sunset, and feeling dwarfed by the redwoods are incredibly happy memories, made happier through my ability to photograph and share them with others.


At the end of this year, I did something I’d wanted to do for years, and created an online fine art print shop, using many of the images I captured on that trip. I mailed prints out all over the country before Christmas – it was an amazing experience. It brings such happiness to be able to share that beauty with the world, and to make part of my living doing it. While I’m still in the early stages with my art business, I have big plans- and I promise you – they will be full of joy.

Print shop: