I am certain that this is not universally true about artists, any more than such sweeping generalisations apply to any group of people that share a common pursuit in life, but it has to be said that many people become artists in the first place because they just don’t fit in. They’re not like other people. They’re kind of odd and awkward.
In most cases, they know it from childhood. They’re not like the other kids. They don’t value the same pursuits or see things in the same terms. They have other interests, other ideals and want different things from life, compared to their peers. The world doesn’t have a readymade place for them, but from what they can see of the world, at even a young age, they know they don’t want any readymade place offered to them. The price is too high. They’d have to surrender too much of their soul to take the comfortable option. They realise, early on, that they’re going to have to carve out their own niche, somehow, without any clues about how to do so and against all odds. The realisation dawns that they’re going to have to work it all out as they go.
Perhaps they don’t agree with how the world is run and with who runs it. Maybe they disagree with how the majority of people behave and conduct their lives. Perhaps they can see tantalising, utopian possibilities that could be chosen, if only others could see them. It could be that the source of their disagreement with the world is purely aesthetic. They abhor ugliness and want the world to be different. Perhaps there are so many things that they find so upsetting, that art is a refuge from all of that stress. Art is a place where they can create a world of their own that doesn’t have so many egregious deficiencies and insults to the soul.
Whatever the basis of their lack of comfortable fit with the world as is, they are undeniably outsiders. Art is the only place they feel they belong. In short, some artists are thorough going misfits.
If they could happily exist in their state of divergence from the world and its ideas, beliefs and values, unmolested and unperturbed by the maddening, insane populace, they could find peace of mind and contentment. Unfortunately, the world being what it is, misfits are actively sought out and corrective measures are ruthlessly applied. They will either be bent into conformity, however much violence that takes, or else destroyed. What cannot be allowed to happen is for the misfit to remain a visible carbuncle on the pristine regularity maintained by all those that fully buy-in to the orthodoxies and traditions. They are a threat not because of their actions, but simply because they refuse to endorse what they profoundly disagree with. In attempting to live their lives as an example of what they would wish to see in the world, those that notice their bold statement take it as an affront, to be eradicated forthwith.
It doesn’t matter how much beauty or creativity the artist issues forth. There is no appeasing the majority. All of the artist’s talents and accomplishments will meet with derision, suspicion or ignorance and will not be valued. Why? They are denigrated because they do not support the status quo. They go against the grain and stand as a beacon against the banal monoculture that is intended for everyone else, by the artist’s very existence and presence. The artist knows he doesn’t belong in this world and so does everybody else. There is no place to live at peace. The fact of his silent protest against the way things are will place him in constant, direct conflict with those that like it this way.
How, then, does an isolated, besieged objector of an artist face the overwhelming tide of forces aiming to set him on the straight and narrow, or punish him for his continued objections? Why does the artist continue the fight and the struggle? Disobedience is hard to maintain, in the face of violent measures to make one obey. Would it not be easier to succumb, let the wave of tedium and banality wash over him and either become a convert to featureless orthodoxy, or else simply perish and be done with it all?
It’s a question every misfit artist must face and answer in their own way. For me, the struggle fuels the art. More obstacles bring forth better and more refined statements of beauty, bolder in their defiance. If a misfit artist gives up the struggle, then all is lost and nobody is left to defend better, more satisfactory ways of living, surviving and thriving. The bastards win, in other words, if you let the wave of unquestioning conformity roll over you.
Every now and then, when the tide of opposition against your very diversity is running particularly strongly and your footholds are being undermined, another misfit will drop you a small note and tell you that what you create, how you live and what you stand for inspires them. Can there be a nicer compliment than that? For all the difficulties encountered by holding fast to the idea of a better world, making better choices and enjoying superior outcomes, every now and then a fellow misfit sends a message of solidarity, indicating that the fight is not solitary and that there are others standing their ground too.
You might feel alone, as a misfit and indeed you are, almost by definition, in the minority. However, you belong to an important group. You belong to those that cause progress, with their own bare, bloodied, exhausted bodies. As a misfit, you are carrying the hopes of the world, whether the world knows and appreciates it or not. Without you, beauty vanishes, hope dies and improvements to our lives evaporate. The precious commodity you guard is the pure possibility of a better life for all. That’s something worth protecting.
Laying down and playing dead, actually giving up the fight and dying, or being forced into conformity is a betrayal of the future. You are the future. You are the only reason things might be different and better tomorrow. It’s only what you think, believe, exemplify and demonstrate that can change all the rotten things that exist in the world. Each act of defiance sends a small ripple into the pond and if enough dissenters each add their ripple of defiance, you soon have a wave. If it all goes well, you create an overwhelming tsunami of change. It all starts with the misfits. The conformists have no contribution to make and indeed, their contribution is not required.
So next time your artistic life seems overwhelmingly difficult and barely worth the fight, remember what your defiance represents. It represents the hope and future of all mankind, if only in a small way. You are playing your part in keeping the possibility of better things alive.
It’s a thankless job, but somebody has to do it.