Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are Artists Unhappy People?

Unhappiness seems to be an artist's constant companion.

I stumbled over this question when browsing my idea list for this blog and decided ... Well, this is a question that keeps haunting me, so I decided it's about time to answer it.

The reason why I keep asking myself this question is simple: Whenever I read an artist's biography I always note that he or she had a pretty difficult life - if not for political or social reasons it were depression, a sickness, an addiction ... Or everything at once. I also note that people who seem content with their life and society often aren't very creative, just as if they don't feel the need for that. - Well, no, there is creativity in them, but it seems more practical: decorating their home, baking cookies ... No great, revolutionary stuff, if you know what I mean.

Last but not least, there's myself, the person I know best and watch all the time. Fighting suicidal thoughts since my teenage years, I wouldn't describe myself as a happy person. And as a matter of fact, I do feel a connection between my general unhappiness and my writing.

It isn't like writing makes me unhappy - it's rather the opposite: Only through writing I can experience true happiness. I believe this is exactly what many artists mean when they say that for them art is as important as breathing. - It is a statement that is supposed to be understood literally. At least for me, as there were a few experiences in my life that taught me that I'm really not afraid of death and that the only reason why I live is because I want to write.

And yet, if I wasn't so focused on writing I probably would be a happier person. I probably wouldn't mind making more compromises in life, I wouldn't pursue some abstract ideals I can't reach anyway and concentrate on more practical and material goals ... I wouldn't be the all-or-nothing person I am: Instead of saying: "Either I write or my life isn't worth living" I'd say: "I'll concentrate on making money, building me a nice home, and if there's time left, I may try and write a little."

Actually, I'm afraid I don't have much respect for people concentrating exclusively on practical and material goals. Just like many other people, especially those in the creative field. Honestly, there isn't much to talk about with someone obsessed with money and career. And the funny thing is: A few decades later most these careerists suddenly realize something important is missing in their oh so perfect life. Because, yes, everyone needs art. Good art, bad art, professional or amateur ... Everyone needs to breathe.

So what is it art gives us? The process of creation, the process of diving into the creations of others ... I'm not religious, but I believe there's one quote from the Book of Genesis worth mentioning: "And God created man in His image [...]" - If we are the images of the greatest creator, then we are creators ourselves.

This may be even the crucial difference between man and beast: Both are alive, both have needs, both need company (from time to time), both know love and compassion, both are intelligent (beast often even more intelligent than man), both can craft tools, but I've never seen an animal creating art. I mean - yes, there are painting elephants, but I really doubt they give much thought to things like concept, meaning, the expression of an idea, technique and skill. This is why for now I believe that the only thing that makes us human is the ability to create. A life without art and creativity is merely the life of an intelligent animal.

I know, maybe this statement is too radical. But I did mention I'm an all-or-nothing person, didn't I? And maybe ... all-or-nothing is what makes an artist. At some point, triggered by some kind of dissatisfaction in life, by the feeling that something is missing or going wrong, an artist develops ideals and suffers because they can't be implemented in our everything but ideal world. This is where the suffering truly begins.

Personally I suffer because I feel limited in my possibilities. Someone without this feeling, someone whose goals aren't as hard to reach as mine, is more satisfied and doesn't feel the need to seek something else in life. Only once the material goals are reached - well, then the individual needs new goals to drive him. Something that's hard to reach, so the drive wouldn't stop: art, the beautiful, the eternal.

Creation is the only true happiness. Because it's the opposite of unhappiness. Just remember/read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: This dystopia makes it pretty clear that there isn't art without unhappiness - and without art and unhappiness there's no true happiness, for the happiness of mankind in Brave New World is artificial.

So it seems to be true: Unhappiness is an artist's constant companion. And a world without unhappiness, a world without suffering, world peace ... would be the death of art.

"But I like the inconveniences."
"We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.

"I claim them all," said the Savage at last. 


Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

I claim the right to be unhappy. - What about you?

Feael Silmarien

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