What fuels your art and creativity? Can you analyse your artistic impulse and find the well spring from which it issues? In short, given how hard it is to create great art, how much time it takes, how much skill you have to develop, how much dedication you need to show and how much potential ridicule you set yourself up for, why do you bother to be an artist at all?
Has any critic ever dismissively and derisively contemplated your art and bluntly, contemptuously asked you, “Why do you bother?” If not, you may be lucky. It’s something that most artists are asked, if they’re honest, at one time or another. It’s the most withering put down of a life’s work that you can imagine. At times like these, you may well wonder why you bother, too.
I have a theory and as with all my theories, it may not be right or the only theory. I think that artists are so out of kilter with the world in which they live that they have no other survival choice, other than to strongly assert who they are, in defiance of the mainstream. Think about it. Artists see the same things as everybody else, but perceive them differently. They march to the beat of a different drummer. They are out of step with most of humanity. They are isolated and alone.
It is said that Mahatma Gandhi offered this sage advice: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. If you see differently and are different, then you are involuntarily thrust into a life and death struggle to shape the world into a place more congenial for the likes of you, or else be crushed by the rest, who do not appreciate your differences as talents or unique virtues.
That might be why we pursue our art so relentlessly. Maybe, if we wish to inhabit a world in which imagination is valued, prized and utilised to solve more of the problems we all face, then we must be imaginative. If we think that invention is the route to a better standard of life for all, then we must invent. If we wish to feel inspired by those around us, we must be inspirational and inspire others. If we want a world filled with creative people and creativity, then we have no choice but to create. When we feel a deficit of encouragement and dearly wish the world would encourage us more than it does, then your vocation is to encourage others as much as you can, as sincerely and as often as you can. The world might not feel like it is populated by enlightened souls, but rather more like the opposite. The solution to the darkness and ignorance is to spend your time on Earth being as enlightening to others as you can manage. To judge that many of our fellow men are unintelligent and unimproved, denigrated and degraded, venal and visceral, low and somewhat brutish, is to accept that you have a duty to all humanity to edify.
The world that I want to inhabit (indeed, need to inhabit) is a world that treats me and everybody else in it with kindness, understanding, compassion, mercy, justice, equality and fairness. The world is seldom like that, of course, and consequently I find my art is harder to achieve, one way or another. I’m sure it weighs heavily on most artists. In fact, I’m sure it burdens most of humanity.
Hence, there is no alternative available other than to extend kindness, understanding, compassion, mercy, justice, equality and fairness, wherever and whenever we can. Do I always succeed? No. I’m not perfect. I’m as vulnerable as the next man. When there is a person offering greed, selfishness, cynicism, cruelty, nastiness or bigotry, I find it hard to remain kind, understanding, compassionate, merciful, just, equanimous and fair, but I also must try, nevertheless. So must we all. If we want to live in a beautiful world, we must create beauty.
This is why we make art, unconcerned that nobody buys it. It’s why we write, when we know nobody will read what we write. It’s why we sing, when nobody will listen. We uphold that which we want to be universal.
So that’s my theory. We bother because to not bother is to resign oneself to acceptance of anathema. It is to admit defeat and accept that all which makes us different is, in fact, of no value. If we accept, we ultimately perish.
We bother to survive.