The best work--the true works of art-- are created with a purpose. They are created with a narrative that resonates through the painting. Throw-away sketches by artists who understand this principle are worth more than anyone creating paintings with no meaning.
This revelation is something that I have noticed with my own work. When I step back and say "what have I made in the past that has satisfied me?"--the answer is paintings that are made with reason and judgement. Sure, a painting can be pretty and have all the elements that should create a strong painting. But there's always something missing. It's the thrill of the hunt, the hunt for the best possible way to convey my message. That is the missing piece with a lot of meaningless art. Purpose is the reason for the journey.
I'm currently working on designing a gold foil stamp for a unisex perfume. The commission calls for a male lion, almost asleep with a lioness alert and on the prowl. The shapes are more important because it's going to be a foil stamp, so the detail is lessened. The sketch pictured on the left was my initial idea, which came to me within five minutes. I had immediate inspiration, which I usually find is the case followed by the need for research. The sketch on the right is after doing some research on family crests and acacia trees, both of which made me think deeply. Interestingly enough, some species of acacia are so aromatic that their flowers are crushed into perfume, but I wouldn't have discovered this without the research.
The shape of the tree separates the two lions and adds a setting for the pair of lions. I stepped back from the sketches and noticed that they satisfied me more because I didn't care about technique or creating a "pretty" picture. Of course, a pleasing composition is important, but that's insignificant if it doesn't help tell the story.
Write a narrative within the sketch and it will translate to a worthy painting.