Friday, May 8, 2020

The Tortured Artist Paradigm

So, whoever invented the popular "tortured artist" paradigm (well, I'm pretty sure it was Plato and his "All of the good poets are not in their right mind when they make their beautiful songs" nonsense...) was, indeed, well, full of it. 

Dear Francis Bacon, while I love your paintings, your indifference to happiness - "The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility"is also a load of crap.

Not to say that if suffering is your jam and its what gets your paintbrush moving that you should dump it for a smile and some sunshine! (Though I highly recommend it.)

I write this because I've been procrastinating for several weeks now working on this commission (see below) and I couldn't figure out why. But the answer is simple. I've been stressed and lonely, and I just really didn't want to make work. My heart wasn't in it.

And this made me think about the concept of the tortured artist which is so popular in today's culture - the mad artistic genius! Behold!

There are so many stereotypes that surround artists - we are solitary creatures; 
we are full of boundless creativity; anguish is a font of inspiration; we shall trudge on and work through the pain and suffering! Now more than ever I realize how I, and I'm sure many of my artistic cohorts, do NOT resonate with these concepts in the least.


I am gregarious by nature, an extrovert that thrives on physical activity and time spent with my friends. At first during quarantine, I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Time! At long last! But eventually, the loneliness, compiled by the stress of making new lesson plans and teaching art from a distance, the lack of tactile contact, have most certainly caught up.

Honestly, making art has been the LAST thing on my mind. And I say this to myself out loud in blog form in order to give myself permission to breathe, recenter, and take a break. Yes! I am an artist...and YES I am giving myself permission (and you too!) to binge on Netflix like every other person on the planet instead of feeling like you must wield your brush like a weapon and stave off the loneliness with dramatic bouts of creative genius!

What eventually pulled me out of my funk wasn't just "getting to it." It wasn't embracing my pain or my sadness...It was giving myself permission to not work, and to allow some joy to enter my day - specifically the joy of meeting with other artists for some "Virtual Shared Solo Practice." Knowing that I would be meeting with this group for a 2 hour session, I allowed myself to bing on some Netflix, take a nap, and snuggle with my cat for the entire day leading up to it. I finally caved and gave myself the go-ahead to do absolutely nothing of "value" or "worth." And it felt so good! Lo and behold, I was then able - after a week of procrastination, wild stress and anxiety - to finally begin this commission that I had been putting off. It was that pass to play hooky, and the connection to others that helped catapult me into a positive mindset. 



So my final thoughts are this - even though we are artists, we are still human, and we do NOT all thrive on misery, anxiety and depression. And if that is where you are, that's okay. It's okay to not create. Sometimes we just need to allow a mental space for mindless activity until we can start breathing normally again. Your art will always be there waiting for you!