Suffering for My Art

Never in my life can I recall being so grateful for it being Monday and having a job to go to. And it had nothing to do with having a job to pay the bills, per se. I was far more happy to just have some place to be where I didn’t have to think, worry, ruminate, stew…

It was a long weekend. It shouldn’t have been, but it was.

That got me thinking about the nature of art (writing, in this case) and the idea that one must suffer for his or her art. I recall hearing that along the way somewhere.

I’m pretty sure most people, most artists, have called bullshit on this one. I’d like to think that none of us think we must suffer for our art. We may choose to suffer, but that’s different. I choose to write right now and it’s (somewhat? mostly?) a choice that I don’t get paid. It’s the nature of the beast. When I freelance I charge a reasonable rate, but that doesn’t always mean I get it, or that it works out real well hourly, but I know that’s a risk going in to the job. I choose to take that risk. You could make the same argument about choosing to work low wage jobs or part-time in order to have time to write.; or, about choosing to not have a family or kids; or about backpacking through Europe (or wherever is the cool spot these days) on a shoestring budget, forgoing a “grown-up” job to get material to write about. Etcetera, etcetera.

Then, of course, there’s the suffering you don’t choose. Crappy family members (though one might say it’s a choice to stick with them), bad friends, shitty jobs, shittier health (and by extension, shitty health insurance or access to shitty health care providers), poor economic circumstances beyond your control (like being born into poverty), and things like that. If it’s something you can draw on and turn into a positive (like a fabulous story), great, but I would hope that no one is trying to rationalize a shitty turn of events as something that “has” to happen in order to make you a better artist. I’d hope that none of those shitty things happen to you.

Because I don’t think you “have” to suffer to be a great artist. I think it happens, and we all go through crap, but it isn’t necessary to write amazing stories or paint beautiful pictures.

I’m not trying to wax poetic about how art can spring from beauty. Of course it can. Art can spring from anything. Whatever inspires you: love, hate, beauty, suffering. Whatever works.

But choosing to suffer? No thanks. I did a bunch of that this weekend. Some by choice, some not by choice. It was an interesting mix once I got to thinking about it. That sometimes we make choices that seem OK, that seem rational and logical, that seem “right” at the time. But, then, later, because of a series of these choices, we find ourselves ass backwards from where we thought we’d be and now, we’re suffering. And it isn’t any fun. And while it might make for some great material, I don’t know that I want to relieve it on the page. That’s what a journal is for. And therapy.

Which got me thinking even further about how the suffering we didn’t choose (or couldn’t chose or was forced upon us because that happens too), can influence us to make the choices we think make sense but end up leading us to more suffering. It’s a long fall down the rabbit hole if we aren’t careful.

My head hurts just thinking about it. In a good way though. All this thinking about suffering is kind of inspiring me. Ironic. I know.

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