After a recent discussion with a friend, I started wondering exactly what people do, through both choice and necessity, for the sake of their chosen art form. My friend believes that you should suffer for your art, which to me seems either extreme or perhaps somewhat hyperbolic; nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if it’s at the very least a little bit true. I don’t mean direct suffering in a self-torture, deliberately making things difficult for yourself sort of sense, because that really would be extreme, but maybe there are things in life that people frequently and willing sacrifice in order to better themselves and their work - now, is that suffering for your art, or is that something else?
It’s a bit of a social stereotype that writers are these off-the-wall characters who can be really turbulent in terms of how available they are, in terms of both emotion and time. It seems writers have a fairly unimpressive and off-putting list of credentials, some of which are true, I think, although a large chunk of them aren’t. So if writers, and other artists of varying forms and degrees, spend their entire lives pouring themselves into pieces of art, what does that leave for the rest of our lives, and indeed the people who exist away from our work? And, if it leaves little to nothing for these important people to enjoy or benefit from, and we really have put everything into our work - is that, by default, some form of suffering?
I’m doing that thing again where I ask you loads of questions and don’t give you any answers - I’m sorry about that.
But can you see my point, a little?
There is such a massive cliché surrounding the artistic community, and members of the artistic community, that deals with the topic of the infamous tortured artist. My own sister takes a deep pleasure in referring to me as one of these tortured artist types at every available opportunity! But is it a real thing? I can’t answer that; not in a manageable blog post at least. But I do wonder whether there must be some truth to it, or at the very least if there used to be some truth to it, because otherwise, where did these ideas come from? It wasn’t a fabrication made by the society of yester year to just brand all artists as these tortured, troubled, and suffering individuals. Or at least, I don’t think it was. I appreciate that Blake seeing faeries, while other artists collected a personal catalogue of sexually transmitted infections and cut their ears off - mentioning no specific names, of course - probably contributed to this, but it does sort of amaze me how it’s managed to stay around so long if there still isn’t some truth to it.
The old-timers, the Romantics and the wing-nuts who contributed to art on such a grand scale those many years ago, I can see how they got a name for themselves. I really can. But how have we managed it? Surely, while we’re sat in Starbucks - or, you know, your own choice of coffee house - sipping at our over-priced Caramel, Mocha-Chocha, Diet, Skimmed, Non-fat but a little bit of fat, Chocolate-tasting if you please coffee, typing away on our trusty laptops, surely we’re aren’t suffering here. However, what we might be doing is sacrificing…
We’re suffering when we have writer’s block; we’re suffering when we have an idea that we need to communicate but no matter how many times we go back to the OED, we still can’t find the right words to use; we’re suffering when we feel the burning desire to sit down and write but it would be bad form to do that in the middle of your mother’s 60th birthday party. We’re suffering then. But generally speaking, I don’t think we’re suffering for our art; we’re sacrificing for it.
I’ve been known to drop out of conversations with people, because I had something to write down. Or miss out on a family movie night, because there was something that I needed to write. Hell, I’ve even missed a lecture once because I believed my time would be better spent writing. So I think that maybe instead of us suffering for our art, it’s life that suffers - or, more specifically, aspects of life - because of the sacrifices we make for our art.
During the conversation that prompted this blog post, I told my friend that if I had a partner who wanted me to stop writing, then I’d leave them. She said, as a fellow artistic type, that she could understand that level of commitment and that indeed if she was in the same position, she would also choose to leave. We both voiced an outright dependency on the respective art that we frequently throw ourselves into and because of that, we would respectively sacrifice any romantic relationship that couldn’t contain that art.
With all of this in mind, it seems a massive leap to suggest that all art comes with a set amount of suffering; maybe it’s the artists that come with the suffering, but only because of the sacrifices they choose to make for the art in question.
Maybe it’s nothing to do with the art at all, and entirely to do with the artist.