There’s a common conception among artists of every kind that making art is hard, that an artist’s life is and should be a struggle, that unless you’re suffering you’re not making real art. Or you’re not doing it right.
I say bollocks to that.
I have spent long periods of time being depressed, and struggling, and having a hard life, and none of it had to do with my art or being an artist. It had to do with the fact that my life and the circumstances that had accumulated within it had screwed up my joy of it somehow. The need to create was actually the life line that I used to pull me up out of the stinking mud. It helped me to keep my head above water long enough to work out what was really wrong with my life and to do something about it.
Art is not about struggling, although it can be about dealing with life’s struggles.
If your art doesn’t provide you with solace in the face of them though, if you can’t imagine your life in a better way when you’re doing it, if it doesn’t make you feel good about existing – then STOP IT.
Art is about joy. Maybe not in what you express – you might write novels about the end of the world or make art about the apocalypse or sculpt nightmarish figures, or create graphic novels of monsters who devour the earth and long for the destruction of humanity, or write songs about the implosion of your heart – but I bet, and raise that bet, that what you do gives you a feeling of joy deep down somewhere inside where everything that is essential to you sits. You make art because it gives you joy.
You make art because it helps you to make sense of what you don’t like or understand, or because you love the colour red. You make art because it gives you the freedom to say and be how you really feel, to let everything out of the bag. You make art because it makes life bearable, because the movement of the brush on the canvas feels like an intimate dance with God, because the words that tumble onto the page take the barbs out of your tongue and make life sweet again.
I have to admit personally, that since my life has taken a positive shape, I actually have more thought and power for my art form. My passion is freed. My concentration has sharpened. My subject matter has expanded, exponentially. My desire to learn and to develop my craft has arrived and flourished. I don’t need art to ‘free me’ anymore, nor am I boring everyone with thinly disguised artworks about me and my problems. Having lived through both realities I can tell you which I prefer.
Suffering to make art makes boring art. And suffering while making art makes the beautiful ludicrous. Depicting suffering in your art – the suffering of others – however, makes compassionate art.
Version one goes like this: “Oh, my life is so crap because I disempowered myself and engineered it that way so that I could be an artist, and here’s my bit of art about me and how that happened.” Snore.
Version two goes like this: “Oh, I have writer’s block/am so uninspired/I can’t paint at the moment so I’ll make something that resembles a constipated chicken in action to represent how I’m struggling with making my art…”
Version three goes like this: “Oh! There’s this young Prince whose dad was murdered by his brother the Uncle and then his mum marries the Uncle and the guy’s girlfriend dies and he starts to question the very meaning of life and loyalty and how to be in a world that seems to honour neither… I think it’ll make a great story!”, and you have something so full of genius that four hundred odd years later people are still finding meaning and joy and further inspiration from it. (As an easily recognisable and accessible example).
That’s the kind of art I want to make and the kind of art I want to experience.
Make the art you want to make. Say what you want to say, in whatever way you want to say it. Bleed, if you need to. But let’s stop perpetuating this myth of the suffering artist. Let the monsters and devils run free. Let the joy of creation overtake you and run through your fingers. The moment you put your tools down and assume your human form again, I’m sure you dance a little.