For like an unrecovered alcoholic who lives only to drink and who will effortlessly toss all other parts of her life aside to do it, artists who care only for their art, who neglect important relationships, will find themselves at risk for living lives that, while pleasurable in many moments, are ultimately miserable.
This excerpt came from the recent article, The Problem with Creatives from Psychology Today that someone shared with me. When I posted the link on my fanpage, it immediately got a lot of buzz and retweets in Twitter Land.
Any creative will tell you that the artistic life is a solitary one; an artist can easily pours hours of herself into all-consuming projects that take them away from the rest of the world. While this rush of escapism can be addictive and enjoyable, it can also be lonely. I think this is especially so when you come up for air after a spell of utter absorption and realize that you’ve been out on what’s going on in the rest of the world.
In my own personal experience, I’ve found that whenever I’ve come up for air after a temporary bout of creative obsession, there’s a strange feeling of emptiness when the work is done. It’s kind of like looking around the room, realizing that there’s nothing left to do and then wondering, “Now what? What’s next?” This was especially true when I was doing a lot of painting. I would agonize and constantly think about every detail of the strokes that I laid down, anticipated what would come next, like a general trying to strategize against an enemy in combat, and then finally torment myself over what I should have done differently. It was a beautiful struggle but I would frequently find myself emotionally (and sometimes physically) drained after the process. I think that’s probably why I can go so long between painting because I have to psyche myself up for the next go run.
The refreshing thing about photography is that there’s more room for balance. For me, it’s spontaneous, carefree and joyful. Because the encounter between the photographer and the subject matter is often fleeting, there’s little room (at least for me) to get caught up in the agony and there’s more room to do other things in my life. It’s a wonderful balance that I didn’t feel when I was painting, which is probably why I’ve become so enamored with photography.
I think this is also why artists can be unbearable, self-absorbed and downright ornery. I’ve witnessed this at many an art show when the featured artist (or artists) felt entitled to act like a complete turd because their need to make “their art” overshadowed the importance of interpersonal relationships and just plain manners. Case in point, I almost got into a shoving match with this obnoxious twit a few weeks ago who felt entitled to elbow me and repeatedly bump into me as he tried to talk about his artistic process to a potential buyer. Clearly, the man was able to see me standing there and could have made room for me, but I suppose he felt that my personal space was secondary to his talking about his art. Other shows that I’ve done with artists have left me wondering why so many of them can be so self-absorbed and disinterested in what other creatives have to contribute.
The other interesting point that article makes can really take a toll on personal relationships. We all remember the stories of famous of artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. They probably were pretty dysfunctional to begin with but their obsession with their art probably didn’t help their tumultuous marriage. In the engrossing book Black Cool: 1000 Streams of Blackness, contributing writer Rachel Harper describes the dark moods of her father, a poet:
We knew he loved us; we knew his periods of silence and the dark moods that accompanied them were not our fault, but the result of stress, from his students and the politics of academia to the frozen marriage that no amount of sunshine could thaw to the demands of creativity, the result of worshipping at the altar of the muse, whoever or whatever that have been.
I think when you become so identified with being an artist, it can swallow you whole and everything you do or don’t do is defined by what you’re able to produce. If you derive your only sense of self from what you create, interpersonal relationships just aren’t fulfilling enough.While I think this idea is pervasive in any line of work you choose to pursue, there’s something different about deriving a sense of who you are by what you make.
An acquaintance once told me that she admired people who chose to create art while they maintained a full-time job because they seemed to have a better sense of balance in their life, leaving less room for self-absorption and that it takes a special sense of dedication to be able to commit to an art practice while committing to a full time job. I don’t know if I totally agree but it does take the pressure off when you do have another source of income that allows creativity to enter and you don’t have to worry about whether or not it will financially support you. Doing so will allow some lightness and joy to come in while you practice.
But that’s just my opinion. What say you?