I found this link in a tweet by Russell Brand, earlier in the week:
It’s an essay by Tennessee Williams about the catastrophe of success. What he discovered, after years of obscurity, was that success made it nearly impossible for him to be creative. What had kept him writing, forcing him to be more original in his work, were his obscurity and the struggle to create. Once it became optional, because he could rest on his laurels, to some degree, or put off writing what he wanted to write because of the opulence he found himself inhabiting, all of a sudden, his satisfaction with life diminished. He calls it being “dead in his shoes”.
We all imagine that if we had the perfect recording studio, or the ideal artist’s atelier, or if we could find a way to write all day, every day and do nothing else, then we would exist in a state of artistic bliss. Not so. It’s the fact that you have to be inventive with not enough time, poor equipment, a lack of recognition and no certainty of comfort and security whatsoever that actually causes your art to become better. Complacency and luxury are the enemies of creativity.
When I look back on my earlier days as a guitar player, you had to get a good sound with the amps that you had (or could borrow), because there were no other amps. You had to find a way, without just throwing money at the problem. We played with an urgency and energy that all too easily fades away later in life, because nobody knew who we were or what we were capable of, artistically. Our earlier recordings, though not technically perfect or even perfectly performed, were alive with ideas, experiments, new approaches, sideways, lateral thinking and the need to get it all done under the fixed and dwindling budgets we had, because there was no other choice. If we wanted to make music at all, we had to find a way of doing it with practically nothing.
I think obscurity gives you a great luxury, ironically. You have to create using your wits alone and it’s a private laboratory of your own, without the scrutiny of people that already know your earlier work. You can produce literally anything, to suit yourself and nobody cares a damn. If you want to mix this paint with that technique, go for it! Who’s the stop you?
Maintaining an element of struggle in your artistic endeavours is what keeps them interesting to you and to any potential audience. Lose that struggle and you wind up with a worse problem. You have to find a way to motivate yourself and to explore new territory, when there is absolutely no requirement or need for you to do so. At least when you’re starving, this imperative keeps you improving and working toward survival.
If you’re finding it hard to approach your art and engage with it, perhaps you are too comfortable. Maybe the wolf isn’t close enough to the door to make you get on with it, with urgency.
Also, maybe success shouldn’t be your goal. Maybe what you really want is to find a way to keep on creating, irrespective of your success. That’s a far harder goal, in fact. You want to find a way to remain alive in your shoes, no matter how much people like what you do.
Appreciate the struggle.