Even as a creative artist, I used to think enduring struggles and hard days in silence and telling people everything was great meant I was strong. And then I learned it just meant I was scared—scared of people not loving me any other way. Scared of sharing the lessons that pain had to teach. I no longer see perpetual claims of “fineness” as strength.
People desperately need to see the full human experience, especially the dark parts. They need to know that other folks struggle, too, and that it’s all part of a bigger story of triumph. They need permission to keep going, knowing that hardship is normal for everyone. Give them that gift. Have that courage. Tell the whole story.
The work of the art student is no light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to think it through. You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this.
She sang, as requested. There was much about love in the ballad: faithful love that refused to abandon its object; love that disaster could not shake; love that, in calamity, waxed fonder, in poverty clung closer. The words were set to a fine old air–in themselves they were simple and sweet: perhaps, when read, they wanted force; when well sung, they wanted nothing. Shirley sang them well: she breathed into the feeling, softness, she poured round the passion, force: her voice was fine that evening; its expression dramatic: she impressed all, and charmed one.
On leaving the instrument, she went to the fire, and sat down on a seat — semi-stool, semi-cushion: the ladies were round her — none of them spoke. The Misses Sympson and the Misses Nunnely looked upon her, as quiet poultry might look on an egret, an ibis, or any other strange fowl. What made her sing so? They never sang so. Was it proper to sing with such expression, with such originality — so unlike a school girl? Decidedly not: it was strange, it was unusual. What was strange must be wrong; what was unusual must be improper. Shirley was judged.
Musicians do not get on stage without hearing the song singing inside of them. Poets do not write as if they are jotting down a sermon, they see everything in their subconscious before presenting it to the conscious, which they later turn to readable materials. Artists do not draw and paint without painting in dream states, trance, or see(ing) an art form that others do not see. Being creative does not call for being any supernatural entity, but in creating with the entities inside of you.
― Michael Bassey Johnson, The Infinity Sign
There is at the back of every artist’s mind something like a pattern and a type of architecture. The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would like to wander, the strange flora and fauna, his own secret planet, the sort of thing he likes to think about. This general atmosphere, and pattern or a structure of growth, governs all his creations, however varied.
Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!), Henri Rousseau, 1891
You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.
―Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Cooking is an art and patience a virtue… Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing – love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist – not perhaps in the representational style of a Dutch master, but rather more like Gauguin, the naïve, or Van Gogh, the impressionist. Plates or pictures of sunshine taste of happiness and love.
I am not a finished poem, and I am not the song you’ve turned me into. I am a detached human being, making my way in a world that is constantly trying to push me aside, and you who send me letters and emails and beautiful gifts wouldn’t even recognise me if you saw me walking down the street where I live tomorrow
for I am not a poem.
Creative people are often accused of narcissism. Can we alter the negative stereotypes and bad behavior associated with artists?
Narcissus by Caravaggio
Greek mythology tells the story of Narcissus, a young hunter who believed he was hot stuff because he was born from the union of a minor river god with a nymph. This boy was, of course, gorgeous and broke heart after heart, including that of the young nymph Echo, who lost her body in the mountains and was reduced to a mystical tape recorder, a disembodied voice that repeats what is spoken. One day, Narcissus stared into a pond and was so captivated by his own reflection that he either drowned or pined away and died. Not too bright, that Narcissus. Yet he gave his name to narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Are we artists and creative types like him? Really?
It is worth noting that the name Narcissus may be derived from the Greek word for sleep or numbness. The defining issue for him is that he is insensitive to others and unaware of the world outside of himself. It isn’t simply that he loves himself above everything; it is that he only sees himself. Everything and everyone around him seems designed to bring him his desires and nourishment, and yet he can never quite possess himself or realize his dreams. His lack of empathy has left him unable to understand his place in the world.
Our society, fond of sweeping generalizations, often takes the view that creativity is synonymous with social dysfunction. It is as if creativity immediately soaks up all the space in a person’s life, rendering the artist incapable of empathy or social graces. Where does this come from and why do we perpetuate it by putting up with rotten behavior from people with talent? Just as we encourage young athletes to focus exclusively on their practice or young engineers or scientists to immerse themselves in their studies, we tell young artists that they must focus on their art to the exclusion of other interests, people and experiences. This results in people in all walks of life doing their own thing in a vacuum. No one is listening because no one has been invited to listen. It’s a lonely world.
So, in order to save art we have relied on marketing. Unfortunately, the idolization and demonization of creative people which we favor does not encourage creativity. Creativity exists in spite of it. The romantic ideal of the artist as something of a monster might be good marketing– we seem to love it in our celebrities– but it is a barrier to communication, which is a major purpose of art. Richard Wagner‘s music is not great because he was anti-Semitic, nor is Francis Bacon‘s artwork outstanding because he was abusive and sadistic, although these qualities are present in their work. The Renaissance painter Caravaggio, famous for his beautiful chiaroscuro technique, was a murderer and a bully who attacked people in the street. Had these men been less unpleasant, their works would be more numerous and palatable to people today than they already are. Greatness lies in the ability of the art itself to communicate something about humanity, despite the shortcomings of its creator. Art is never quite what the artist intended, nor is it ever completely what the audience expects. It has a voice of its own. This is why some people are uncomfortable with art and some artists are uncomfortable with people.
René Descartes, Meditations métaphysiques
As human beings we see the world through the mirror of our own consciousness. Each consciousness has its own beauty, its own patterns which are unique, exciting and worthy of exploration. At the same time, there is a danger that, in exploring our own views and ourselves, we might drown in our own reflection without ever communicating it to anyone else or sharing anyone else’s vision. This danger threatens all of us, from businessmen to stay at home moms. Art is one of the few vehicles we have for expressing ourselves and understanding one another. It is vital to our existence, whether we consider ourselves artists or not. Without creativity and empathy we are ants.
Some artists seem to relish the role of the self-absorbed Narcissus, while others are more like Echo, losing their own selves in order to mirror the nonsense of a culture that has lost touch with the world around it. What would happen if we recognized the artist in each of us and defined creativity as an attribute of all human beings instead?
This is part of our strategy at Synkroniciti. We aim to help artists get out of themselves and people to find the artist within. Check out our first workshop, Getting Unstuck, coming up in 2014.