Is Art Selfish? | Part 1

Erhm, Happy New Years! Now let’s get into it. This post has been simmering in the recesses of my mind for quite some time. There’s a bit of back-story to how I came to be concerning myself with the question “is art selfish”.

wip contemporary artist

While spending a quiet evening with a small group of friends the conversation came around to how one of my friends’ creations were progressing (she’s a mum with young children and is setting up her own creative business). She explained that she was finding it difficult to prioritise her new project because “art is fundamentally a very self-indulgent activity”, especially when juxtaposed with the most selfless of roles – motherhood. It all got very awkward when everyone remembered I was sitting there all childless and self-indulgent!

This issue, mostly forgotten until recently, was revived when I was liaising with the organiser of an art festival who is also an artist in her own right and she proclaimed that she is going to be a bit selfish next year and focus more on her own art and less on creating events for other people’s.

Some Questions

  • Why is being an artist sometimes labeled as selfish but this criticism is rarely, if ever, levelled at other professions?
  • Is there such thing as a healthy level of selfishness? (I absolutely believe there is an unhealthy level of selflessness).
  • If the artist makes money from her art does she cease to be selfish?
  • Back in the day, I played guitar but because of performance anxiety I couldn’t bring myself to play in front of anyone. A friend of mine at the time accused me of selfishly squandering my talents. Is art only selfish if it is not shared?
  • Is “selfish” the worst thing that can be said about making art?

Some Thoughts

Just the other day, I posed this question to my wife. “Is art selfish?” This is the woman who has seen me at my most selfish. She thought for a moment and said, “It can be.” She’s right, of course. GENE LUEN YANG, Tor

Yes, it can be. Taken to its logical extreme, the artist who lets “his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art” (Man and Superman, G.B. Shaw), is undeniably selfish. Perhaps at its worst art is selfish.

I suspect this could be done with almost any profession: glean an insight into its darkest incarnation and then present it as its truest, most fundamental state instead of a single, lopsided version. As an ex-social worker I feel comfortable using this profession as an example. In its most abhorrent manifestation, social work is a socially acceptable and often state-sanctioned method of imposing one set of morals onto another group of people who, allegedly, don’t know any better and need to be saved (for example, it was social workers who took the children away from the Aborigine mothers of the stolen generation, “for their own good”).

For me, at its best art reflects something inside ourselves (or society) which is true yet inaccessible in the harsh light of our day-to-day lives. Art sweeps the dust off our souls. I believe, when this happens, art relieves the feeling that we are alone and connects us to a shared humanity. This is my particular slant of course; as an adoptee I think my awareness of the importance of seeing ourselves reflected in others is closer to the surface than most.

My intuition on this question is that there is a kernel of truth to the judgement that “art is selfish” but it lacks nuance and is strangely biased towards its worst manifestation.

A Side-Note About Motherhood

I don’t want to go too far down this tangent but having said that, I do feel that I need to make mention of this theme. For my own personal reasons I feel that the notion with which today’s society is so in love, that motherhood is “selfless”, is a destructive one. I strongly believe that my friend’s son and daughter would benefit in incalculable ways to grow up seeing their mother creating extraordinary things with a thriving business that in turn makes her fiercely confident and proud and is vastly preferable to the martyred, selfless mother who only ever puts her energy into something directly benefiting her children.

I intend to extend the question “Is art selfish” to all of the creatives in my life, which is why I’ve optimistically titled this post “Part 1”. I’m intrigued at how other people think and feel on this topic and hope to report back as soon as I’ve collated some insights!

If there’s one piece of advice I wish someone had told me years ago, it would be to create with the assumption that you’re allowed to be an artist. I wish someone had said, “it’s okay, you can do this, you can be an artist and nobody’s going to try and take it away from you.” BETH CAIRD, Red Bubble

A Memo from the Moon

Allow me to introduce you to the reason I dropped off the face of the earth this year. I mentioned at the beginning of the year that we bought our very first house: “Piper’s Moon”. Since then we’ve had people doing work on the house pretty much constantly as she was in a bit of a state, bless her. So although settlement was in Autumn we didn’t get in until the dead of Winter.


Autumn 2

Autumn 3

Autumn 4


Bulb planting

Piper s Moon


Our Road




We’re on an acre so the garden’s big enough that we can take a little walk through it and it was so exciting to be surprised by something new emerging in the garden each time.




Now | Summer

The more work we did on the house the worse and worse she looked (think porches ripped up, gouges in weatherboards, mud everywhere, etc), but finally we’re coming out the other end and we’ve gotten around to some of the fun stuff which will make her pretty again, like painting! I cannot express how delighted I am with my glossy black doors!



wild flowers

wild flowers 2

Interior Vignettes



I’m completely in love with my garden and gardening. When I’m in the studio I love it just as much as ever but it’s a constant battle to actually get in there and tear myself away from the garden. I’m currently grieving a little for all my spare time to spend in the garden as I’m prioritising creating as much art as I can for an upcoming thing which I will tell you about another time because this post is already long enough (a bit like this sentence)! All of this is to say that I’m going to start blogging about my garden as well, although it will remain predominantly an art blog.

A New Ink Drawing and WIP

That title is me nonchalantly pretending like I didn’t just disappear off the face of the digital-earth for 5 months. Not coincidentally, the last time I blogged was in July which was also the month we moved into our first home! Yes, I have been a tad preoccupied. I’ve also really missed the ritual of documenting my life and art for the blog. I feel the loss of not having documented the first 5 months of life in our new home. It’s a very seasonal garden and it’s a shame I haven’t photographed our first winter and spring here. Ah well, one can only lament what cannot be undone so much.

2015 Owl Lovers Calendar is Now Available!

Owl art Nellie Windmill

This handsome rogue is my contribution to the 2015 Owl Lovers Calendar which you can download for free over at My Owl Barn. The original concept for this piece was for the owl to be in the form of a playing card with another owl in mirror-image below this one, gripping each other’s talons. I quickly realised however that the aspect ratio of the calendar made this unfeasible. I still really like the idea though and have squirrelled it away in my heaving Evernote of ideas.

Custom Art

work in progress acrylic art

wip illustration art

I’ve been having an absolute romp with this commission painting. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of painting balloons. You can commission your own custom painting from the commission section of the Nellie Windmill Etsy shop.

Work in Progress

wip illustration art

Next time I draw the tiles no smaller than this brush! This piece was for an exhibition for the End of the Line Festival. The exhibition didn’t have a theme per se but we were briefed to paint the painting we’ve always wanted to paint but never had an excuse. I’ve long had an unnatural obsession with chimneys and roofscapes hold a singular magic for me. I’ve always wanted to paint tiled roofs smothered in chimneys but never have for some reason. I’m not sure if I found all that detail a bit intimidating or worried that it might be a bit boring for normal people who don’t harbour a chimney fixation, or maybe I was just busy painting the other things I’m equally enamoured with?

I have more announcements but I don’t want to info dump after 5 months of radio silence so I think I’ll leave those exciting morsels until next time!

Outrageous Art Crush: Mr Finch Textile Art

I’ve never met Mr Finch, the artist behind this magical collection of textile art, but sometimes you come across an artist or author whose work makes you think, “if I could clone people, I would clone this one”. I don’t have this thought every time I come across artwork I fall in love with. Usually, I’m satisfied with the dream of owning one of their creations one day. But every now and then the artwork is so achingly beautiful and weird that I sit in awe, wondering at the mind behind the work.

Yellow bird small Mr Finch Textile Art

Bumbee small Mr Finch

Cobweb in a case Mr Finch

Large Textile moth on hand small2 Mr Finch

Moth and coach small Mr Finch

Moths large small Mr Finch

Mr Finch Mushrooms

Mr Finch Rabbit

Orange mushroom small Mr Finch

Photo moth circle Mr Finch

Tea making spider small Mr Finch

Toadstoools 33 Mr Finch

Toadstool finished small 624x962 Mr Finch

Weeping wolf small new Mr Finch

Mr Finch Textile Artist

Mr Finch’s website

Mr Finch on Facebook

Mr Finch on Etsy

Mr Finch on Tumblr

WIP Snippet: Toned Ground

I realise this is a very unsexy image to share and yet… there’s just something about it. There’s something delicious about grabbing a blank canvas, choosing a yummy colour and transforming your white canvas into a solid colour. I love seeing them like this.

wip work in progress toned ground

To get art nerdy on you, this is what’s called a toned ground. Usually when working in acrylics I work from dark to light so my toned ground has always been black or darkest brown. With this latest batch of paintings I’m trying a lot of new things however and one of those things is not working from dark to light so I got to play with different colours for my toned ground, which was fun. It’s funny how much delight simple things like this give me. I enjoy them more than I have any call to.