©2011 Odilia Rivera Santos
Many of us have been tortured souls and have created great art through and from a source rife with pain. The problem with setting up these connections, of creation and pain, is that the nervous system will eventually tire out. We wear out our myelin sheaths with the constant banging against our nervous system walls. Our bodies have a memory, so when we create from pain, it stands to reason that at the start of a writing, painting or film-making project, our bodies might go into that depressive state in which negative emotional chemicals begin to flow.
In the slaughter of animals in order for the meat to be Kosher, the animals cannot see other animals slaughtered because fear unleashes unhealthy hormones. The fight or flight response negatively affects the parasympathetic system, and causes the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Fear and pain cannot be the source of creativity but we can use creativity to climb out of the darkness of suffering. The first rule of being an artist is to be satisfied with your work; this is not to say you should not think there's room for improvement. All artists are looking to continue their artistic evolution. But you should be happy to make art -- you, all alone without awards or a friend at a major publishing house and maybe three people who care about what you have to say.
The suffering artist bit has been done to death both literally and figuratively. If you are suffering, as so many artists I know seem to be, make an attempt to get to the root of suffering and deal with it head on. Perspective is usually the culprit; examining past experiences requires a healthy perspective in order to retrieve worthwhile lessons and leave the nastiness behind. Sometimes, people don't suffer from depression but have been taught to think like a depressive -- fearful, overanalyzing each experience and full of apprehension.
Keep your day job and hustle or hustle and hustle
There are two options when you decide to be an artist: be a full-time artist or keep a day job and be a part-time artist. If you are a natural born gambler who doesn't blink at the prospect of skipping a few meals and living with thirteen people in a studio apartment, be a full-time artist. You have to really hustle and create a rigid schedule for yourself -- far more rigid than any created by an employer.
If you're the nervous type or a natural born lollygagger who does not have the hustler gene, keep your day job. The important thing is to know yourself and to avoid whining.
Whining isn't an efficient use of time. The best kind of job for an artist is one that helps him/her cultivate a personality trait he/she would like to have. Some artists suffer so much in the attempt at normalcy that they are better suited to doing everything possible to avoid the 9 to 5 existence. Henry Miller was one of those artists who was crushed by the idea of going to work and coming home to eat dinner with his wife and child; for him, writing and a regular life were incompatible to say the least. He speaks very eloquently about his misery in the normal world and the tremendous sense of freedom once he decided, at the insistence of his wife, to pursue writing full-time: Henry Miller
Whatever work you do, outside your art, must strengthen your resolve and make you a better artist. For example, if you are losing your sense of play and joy and becoming humorless, working with children on art projects would help. When we become closed off to some aspect of life, emotion or segment of the population, our creativity suffers.
Do your art everyday. I have spoken to artists who say they need a new computer to write or a writing workshop, painters need a studio, etc., but that's bullshit. Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in prison awaiting execution. If you want to do it, you will do it. If you resist doing your art, maybe you are a masochist or not really an artist.
If you are a writer, take pictures. If you are a visual artist, write. If you are a spoken word artist, be quiet and make a sculpture. Variety inspires us.
Learn from others but don't compare yourself to anyone. You can learn a lot from other artists but instead of trying to imitate or compare yourself to them, think about the essence of the individual's creation. I love Nabokov and Kurt Weill and realize it is their independence of spirit and belief in their work I find thrilling. They turned their art into a world, so moving from one country to another was not fraught with suffering. Wherever they traveled, they were home. They were at home in Art, which is where I live.
Writers, be careful not to die of exposure.
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