I think the thing I struggle with most is making art when my heart is aching. Unfortunately, the list of things that can make somebody pre-disposed to being an artist (a modicum of sensitivity and a heightened aesthetic sense, for example) feel heartache can be pretty long. Creativity dries up for so many saddening reasons.
There’s the difficulty in carving out creative time and a space in which to create. The pressures to earn often include the distraction of a demanding day job, which you need to give your best to, for pure integrity reasons, but which can leave you feeling drained, dispirited and depleted. Inevitably, there are health issues to contend with, bureaucracy to comply with and the tribulations and troubles of those closest to you, who you love the most. It all has a creativity dampening effect.
Add to that the ambient background of a veritable cavalcade of your artistic heroes and inspirations dying, the prevailing political climate, the parlous state of the global economy, crumbling institutions and infrastructure and a despoiled natural environment and you would have to be pretty self-centred to not notice. In fact, isolating yourself and creating art, in the face of all of that, which requires quite a bit of detachment from other people and intense focus, can be seen as an act of selfish abandonment. That can make you feel awful, too.
What’s an artist to do?
I see it as the greatest test of an artist. It’s tempting to give in to despair and just stop creating, but you have a duty to others, as an artist, even if your contributions go unappreciated. You have a duty to fill the world with as much hope, beauty and wisdom as you can create. Your imagination and ability to see differently is crucial to changing an unacceptable situation. Your works are needed to soothe humanity, give them comfort and be a conduit through which they can feel their fears and grief. Art has an important emotional and psychological purpose and artists who can provide that relief really should.
Without your art, ideas, creativity and imaginative connection, human thought devolves into the drear existence of the purely functional. All the joy disappears and everybody’s heart becomes heavy. Efficiency displaces frivolity. Productivity replaces quality. The calculus fetishises cost over delight. Everything has to turn an advantage and profit to those controlling the swindle.
Have you ever noticed what dull, two-dimensional people billionaires tend to be? They’ve dedicated so much of their existence to the accumulation of wealth and power, that they have let their imaginations, intellects, generosity, sociability empathy and souls wither and atrophy. Then, they attempt to remake the world in their own image, according to their distorted values, impoverished in the very things that make us human. They do so, because they have the influence and purchasing power to amplify their muted, stunted character and personalities. Is it any wonder that modern cities, centres of wealth and power, are such deserts of culture, lacking grass-roots vibrancy and intellectual stimulation?
The heavy-hearted die young. Art is what helps humanity slow down its inexorable march toward death and oblivion. It is the only thing capable of uplifting the downtrodden. Each artwork is an expression of love – a gift given to mankind, in the hope that it will be accepted.
If that seems like a daunting responsibility to shoulder, as an artist, it is. What you make matters, but more importantly, demonstrating the strength and defiance to make joy and wonder, in a tumultuous world, is even more inspiring. In the darkest days, when things are no longer funny at all, finding ways to bring smiles and laughter into the world is like delivering a medicinal salve and a balm to heal the most wounded of hearts. Art is life.
So, keep writing, drawing, joking, parodying, painting, sculpting, architecting, designing, discovering, engineering, playing, inventing, composing, innovating, recording, knitting, sewing, crocheting, gardening, growing, nurturing or whatever else you do to express your creativity. In the darkest of days, when the world seems hell bent on an orgy of hatred, violence, vengeance and base cruelty, art is the antidote. It matters more in dark times than when times are good and the living is easy. It’s also much harder to produce.
In giving the gifts of your creativity, freely and with gratitude for your abilities, you can heal your own aching heart, even though it feels intensely painful to dredge the original and delightful from the depths of your own raw feelings of distress. The process of making art, in dark times, can be extremely uncomfortable and require you to dig deeply for the courage, but humanity desperately needs your contribution.
Be brave and keep on creating. You must create better, faster and with more strength, than the destroyers can destroy. It’s a titanic contest.