I don’t think I suffer more than average. When I find the enthusiasm to write about myself, I’ll include those painful and dark times from my past, along with the many good ones. I will be unable to link any of it to my creativity because I see no connection.
I do believe that to a degree, suffering is optional. I’ve seen people suffer unnecessarily, and I’ve seen those same people get over it.
In my blog tagline, I intend rain as a metaphor for my dark side, but it could also be for pain, suffering, or difficulty in life. The reaching for the sky is either embracing our human dark side or recovering from painful times. Such painful times often come with lessons making them valuable.
Until I read Big Magic, I gave little thought to suffering’s association with creativity, talent, and giftedness. I thought Elizabeth Gilbert’s treatment of the topic was a bit condescending (maybe it’s not). Perhaps it’s me, but telling alcoholics (or drug addicts) to get over it has limited success. On the other hand, many alcoholics told me that the painful consequences handed them by life at the bottom was motivation to recover.
I think that what Liz bemoans is using suffering as justification to be creative, talented, or gifted, thus making an excuse for hanging on to the bottom. We shouldn’t suffer just because we think it improves our work. I’m concerned because I know people die on the bottom. I’ve experienced great things from living artists, suffering or not – nothing from the dead ones.
I don’t take the relationship between our creativity and suffering too seriously, but I am less apt to dismiss it as some others may do. Conversely, I believe talented people do not need to suffer to be talented or creative. I am a happy guy who loves dark poetry, stories, and the dark side of human nature. Following my review of a memoir recently, I told the author “This is a sad story. Your job is to make me cry.” I’m advocating emotional writing, not suffering, hers or mine.
I avoid pain and consider that normal. Just ask my nurses when I’m having surgery — higher is better. And don’t even talk to me about my dental appointments.
While researching this topic, I discovered that I’m not the only person who finds this subject interesting. The available resources on the topic are sufficient for a doctoral dissertation, followed by two books.
I found this link to a blog (here) and a video of a talk (here), both involving Sharon Salzberg. Both are pretty good and not too long (the video excerpt relates to happiness and creativity).
And who does not love this song by Don McLean? It certainly relates to suffering and art.
I also found a site (here) with a collection of information on this and associated topics. It links with other sites and pages for developing creativity and personal growth. Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in any challenges to a creative life.
“Creative artists are fifth in the top 10 professions with high rates of depressive illness. But does depression attract them to the job? Or does the job make them depressed?” “…the reality for the sufferer is that depression is so debilitating it’s impossible to create anything at all.” ~ Helienne Lindvall
To love what you do, and the love of doing it, even when it is gruelingly difficult (and maybe more so when it is) may be the answer. What I’ve read seems to recommend this. Love your art! Do it for the love of the work, the art, the creativity, the experience. As Stephen King says, do it for the “buzz.”
The concept of a reciprocal relationship with our art was also introduced to me in Big Magic. Doing the art because we love it and love the act of doing it, despite the challenges is one thing. The idea that our art can love us back took me some pondering. Liz Gilbert says “why not?” I’m on board with her. Why not? Maybe not always and forever (although our art will likely outlive us), but at least sometimes.
Gilbert balks at calling our work of art our ‘baby,’ but this seems totally normal to me and many others. We don’t equate art to human babies. But it does vocalize the love we may have for our hard work, often more than nine months worth.
In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon provides two excellent graphic depictions. One describes the challenges and difficult process of creating from an idea. The other depicts that love relationship we have with our creations.
May you be lucky in your love with people and with your work. As Austin says, “Do good work and share it with people.”
Have a wonderful weekend and be happily creative to your heart’s content.
3 thoughts on “Suffering, Love, and Creativity”
I enjoyed your take on this topic. Thanks.
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I think I like the Manson quote the best. I don’t completely agree with it, but it seems the most personal and the most honest. He is an interesting individual. Acting out of self compulsion is a powerful thing. Your post is thought provoking. I start to say one thing in my head and then switch it around. I may have to post about this, too. I will for sure give you credit as the catalyst. I look forward to reading more of your posts. I like rain too, but at night when I am asleep and my grass can drink.
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I fully agree with your analysis – suffering is certainly not essential for creativity but it’s in there somewhere, feeding it indirectly. And that’s a great description of the life of a project – I relate to it entirely!
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