Disclaimer: obviously I am waiting (procrastinating) to do my final post on the history of photography so these blog posts are much more philosophical.
I just asked my friend, “When were you most happy as an artist.” She replied that her third year of graduate school, when she really started to produce “the work,” was when she was most happy. According to her, she finally created some good, credible work at that point. After years of toil, it also yielded happiness.
Happiness has been a theme in conversations recently with friends, in particular my friends who are/were artists. I started reading David Rakoff’s book, Half Empty. The book intertwines personal stories with pointed critiques of everything from Disney’s Innovention House to the failures of the musical, Rent. What is most appealing to me about this book is Rakoff’s unflinching look at the misery that attends creating. Rakoff insists that we should not romanticize the creative impetus: it is highly unglamorous. It is also a ruthless endeavor to carve out time to create when most of us have to work a day job to pay the bills (a fact that is not lost on me at all.) Rakoff produces some really great lines throughout the entire text and I recommend it to every creator. For example, a choice quote:
“Creativity demands an ability to be with oneself at one’s least attractive, that sometimes it’s just easier not to do anything. Writing-I can really only speak to writing here-always, always only starts out as shit: an infant monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever.) Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.”
Rakoff nailed what it means to be a creative person. Being a visual artist is incredibly difficult, especially if one is prone to negativity when faced with time to dwell. But I also think that very negativity can produce a critical eye that says, “not yet, don’t embarrass yourself.”
Time, persistence, demanding boundaries so that you will be able to sit alone with your awful, awful self: that is how art is made. Fulfillment (or catharsis) is nice and all, but it is usually after vast amounts of struggling through self doubt, criticism, and rejection. Those who insist that the act of making art is somehow therapeutic are probably not taking their work seriously enough. And monster that I am, I have always thought cynically about art as therapy.
In conjunction with this post on happiness and the creative person, I am pleased to show you my book of affirmations: the product of having a lot of useless business cards and reading wellness blogs.
Teaser: it gets cathartically venomous