Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why Do We Create Art? - What an Overdose of Caffeine Has Taught Me About Art

A caffeine overdose has taught me that writing is my reason to live.

About two years ago there was a day when I had too much caffeine. I suffered from insomnia and to fix my inability to concentrate I was taking caffeine pills and drank much coffee; additionally, I was stressed and depressed which resulted in lost control over the amount of caffeine I consumed. So when night fell I experienced the worst caffeine shock of my life.

To say I couldn't sleep would be an understatement. Even though with my brain I knew my symptoms weren't that dangerous (compared to the symptoms people actually die from) I still had a really bad anxiety attack. Well, it wasn't that bad that I lost control over myself. In fact, I was still pretty capable of pondering about whether I could handle it myself or whether I should call the ambulance. And in the end it all turned out very well for me: I didn't need any medical help, I somehow managed to force myself to lie down and wait all night until the anxiety ebbed away and I didn't consume more caffeine than one cup of coffee or black tea per day ever since.

So what does this life lesson have to do with art? Well, while half of my brain was still functional and allowed me to reflect on my condition the other half was convinced I would drop dead any minute. I had that instinctive, savage fear we usually have when facing serious danger. So my state was a bit like standing in a burning house with all your senses telling you you're going to die while with your brain still understanding that the burning house is only an illusion. The animal inside wants to run for safety while the brain knows you only have to wait.

The strange thing about that whole situation was how calm I remained. The animal inside was telling me I was going to die. Part of me believed it. But neither half of me minded dying. The animal had its survival instinct, yes, but it wasn't strong enough to get control over me. In fact, I'm suffering from suicidal thoughts since the age of 14 and the reason why I still live is because I believe in reincarnation and thus don't expect suicide to fix the problem (as I'll still have to deal with it in my next life). There are many things I'm afraid of, but death isn't one of them. I find life itself and an uncertain future very much scarier.

So there I was, partly believing I was going to die and actually ready to accept my fate, when a thought occurred to me: There are still stories in my head I haven't put to paper yet. This thought was accompanied by the possibility of something I actually do fear: Dying without having given all those worlds and stories in my head a physical manifestation. Not fulfilling the purpose of my life, so to speak.

Well, the next step would be to ask: Why do I consider writing my life purpose in the first place? Not becoming famous and making money through writing (although it would be a nice side effect), but just writing and publishing my stories (online). Why?

I mean, it all began as writing down some silly teenage fantasies. Soon it became some kind of self-therapy for my depression. And then I discovered that stories can help others. Art makes us reflect our lives, it helps us to feel better, to free suppressed feelings, sometimes even to find solutions for serious problems. This is when writing became really exciting. It became my way of exploring human problems, their causes and possible therapies. I did tons of psychological research, I started to read encyclopaedias and forums where people share their problems and seek help and I took a closer look at my own memories, analyzing my life and experimenting with putting my experiences in different contexts. And when my readers started not only to tell me how much they like my stories but also to thank me for writing and sharing them I knew that I was doing the right thing.

I shifted from writing merely for myself to writing for my audience. I want to be heard and understood, so my stories can help. I want to talk to my readers, so there can be an exchange. In other words, writing is my way of getting the feeling of being needed by society. And since the need of being needed actually originates in the need of being loved, writing is actually pretty much the same as a baby charming its mother with a smile, so she wouldn't abandon it.

Would I write if there wasn't a potential audience? I don't think so. Would anyone do it? Maybe. There are writers and writers, artists and artists. But creative people usually get depressed when nobody cares for their creations. Because most of us write for the audience. For a very human and very valid reason. Because art is needed. By everyone.

That caffeine overdose two years ago has taught me that writing is my reason to live and whenever I feel depressed I recall the moment I realized it. It's my main weapon when facing life's difficulties now.

A few days ago I stumbled over a TEDx Talks video with Benjamin Todd explaining why in order to find work you love you should not follow your passion. His advice is: You should rather do what's valuable. Being taught by everyone to follow my passions (of which I have way too many), I was surprised when I found myself agreeing with him. It absolutely correlates with how I feel about writing: Do what helps other people and makes them happy. Do what contributes to society. What you will be needed and loved for.

Taking a realistic look at the book market and the competition to get published, chances I'll ever have a noteworthy income through writing are really small. But even though this is a depressive thought, well ... As long as I'm capable of writing and fulfilling my life purpose it should be alright.

Why do you create art? Do you create it for an audience? How important is art to you? The comment section is waiting!

PS: Be careful with caffeine.

PPS: Watch this. (You may cry.)

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