Why Being An Artist Kills You
I’m an artist. A creative type. A creator.
It is a truly frustrating way to be. It’s like being subject to the decisions of a teenager for your entire life. Imagine knowing what you should be doing, understanding and seeing the bigger picture, and then promptly finding yourself staring at the ceiling wishing that connecting the dots didn’t require so much uncreative grind. You find yourself physically incapable of actually acting on the responsibilities you need to take care of.
Because the grind is called that for a reason.
It’s why even though you look at art or hear music or read a book and think, “I could do that better,” you haven’t – and you never will.
Being an artist isn’t actually about being talented. Sure, there are a lot of talented people. But they are not all artists. Not to mention that not all artists are equally talented – or arguably, even talented at all.
The “Am I Actually Talented” Debacle
I’m already on the topic, so I might as well start here.
The internal struggle – the eternal question of talent – that tears so many artists apart and leaves them entirely frozen in place.
You want to create. You love to create. Yet, when you create you cannot help but to somehow then realize how many people are so much better than you at everything you create.
I do not have the best voice, therefore I should not sing.
I do not write the best songs, therefore I should not write songs.
I do not write the best stories, therefore I should not write stories.
I do not draw the best pictures, therefore I should not draw.
As an artist, you are intentionally making yourself the most vulnerable that you have ever been and then systematically tearing down and destroying every piece of it.
“Art is subjective,” people will comfort you. “I like what you have created. It’s fantastic.”
Yes, but I didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for. I did not change lives. It did not come out the way that I wanted it to. Or, it came out the way that I wanted it to but nobody seemed to notice. Or people noticed, but interpreted it wrong. Or, I want to focus on creating more of this but I cannot seem to channel my creations into a business structure that will support itself. Or, I wanted to create something with meaning and punch, but what came out was mediocre and void of deeper thought. What if everything I create is cliche?
Even in writing this post, I continue to think to myself: I don’t know if I really qualify as an artist because I do not consistently practice or focus on any of my crafts and therefore I may be misrepresenting the way that actual artists feel about these topics.
Let me emphasise that again: I have been drawing, making music, and inventing things since before I can even remember and I still don’t feel 100% confident in my identity as an artist.
Being an artist is constantly questioning the validity of your work and your pursuits.
Self-Doubt vs. Self-Indulgence
A paradox that erodes your insides.
The other side of this equation is the necessity for self-indulgence. Which, you may note, is in direct opposition to all of the self-doubt and self-questioning I just described to you.
Once you get past woefully wringing your hands over your questionable talent and cliche creations, you reach the part of the cycle where you have to create because it’s in your very blood. You have to create.
The process of creation, the generation of ideas, the sheer number of hours and dedication spent on a creative motive is a massive commitment. Energy. Time. Money.
When an artist creates, they are creating a manifestation of their very soul.
It is an exemplary display of self-indulgence. Here, take this thought of yours and bathe in it. Saturate the rest of your thoughts with it. Envelope your mind, your soul, your being into it. Refine it. Change it. Breathe life into it. It is yours, your brain-child, it is you materializing into some art form.
That amount of self-indulgence leads to strange behavior.
Once I have finished a blog post (such as this one) I will go back and re-read it over and over again, even after it has been published and shared.
When I write a new song and record some version of it, I will sit in my bedroom and listen to it on repeat for hours on end.
When I dabble in poetry, prose or creative writing, I will read and re-read it in different ways until I could practically perform it on a stage from memory.
When I complete a drawing or sketch I am proud of, I will go back and stare at it almost as if it were porn on a daily basis until I truly feel weird looking at it anymore.
And when I’m done with my recent creations, I will often go back in my archives and dig up old art of mine and dwell in their memory and consider the way I felt then and whether it still applies to me in my life today.
I consider the ebb and flow of the language I chose. I think about the different inflections people may use when reading it. I wonder whether people will notice the precise vocabulary I settled on. The length of the sentences. I wonder whether I am satisfied with it. I try to find patterns in the subjects and methods I use. Have I grown as an artist? Have I receded?
Your art is never finished.
Was it good enough? Am I talented enough? Enough for what, is really the question.
And so you ride the wave of satisfaction as you work on a creation. It feeds that need, it fills your soul, it gives you purpose and drive and motivation. You are the master of your own creation. It is yours. It is you.
Until the cycle begins to close on itself. The self-doubt comes back. Are you talented or just being coddled? Why are you creating this? What does this say about you?
Was it worth the time?
Worth the effort? The money? The responsibilities ignored?
Anxiety sets in.
Are you worth the amount of self-indulgence this calls for? Do you think other people are worth less? Who do you think you are?
What exactly qualifies the validity of your work?
Logical Choices Don’t Make Sense
When you spend that much time indulging in your own creative needs and ideas, it begins to distort the way that you perceive and view life.
The types of things that are important to you, the way that you experience time, the thought process in rationalizing certain types of decisions, all these things are a little off of the what the real world needs from you.
In other words, being an artist makes you an asshole.
There is an unhealthy rationale applied to my day-to-day world that I am all too aware of, but all too ready to ignore. I often know what I should do, but the suffocation of doing it gives me a panic attack and when I go to do it in any other timing but my own I find myself curled up in the fetal position waiting for someone to come make everything okay.
I worry that I never recovered from my anxiety disorder, and rather just learned to ignore what would bother me.
Allow myself my self-indulgence and ignore the rest.
Because I live in a delusion where that’s okay.
And whenever I try to breach that delusion, it ruins my mental stability. (One might argue it isn’t really all the stable, in that case.)
The Vicious Cycle of a Starving Artist
If you’ve ever talked to an artist about their finances, you will be ready to pull your hair out faster than you’ve been ready to do anything in your life. And when you go to rip it out, you’ll discover that it already turned gray. New wrinkles are on your face.
Because artists don’t make rational decisions.
An artist needs to experience things. Create things. Breathe in life, exhale art. It’s a constant need, an addiction, our life energy.
Money really gets in the way of all that.
Yes, having more would make things a lot easier. Making it, however, becomes problematic when the grind it gets in the way of the addiction. Experience doesn’t have to cost money. It always costs someone something, but don’t let that bother you.
And so it goes.
Sometimes artists can find someone who can take that creative drive and turn it into profit, and manage that profit to actual mutual benefit. Or if the artist is bold enough, they will garner enough attention whether their work is good or not.
Art and creativity is a weird industry.
Dress it up right, and people will throw millions at it. Neglect the appropriate presentation, and you find yourself staring down bills you can’t do anything about.
The same creative motivation and drive that made me appear to be a child genius is the same motivation and drive that stops me from focusing on any one thing and settling down as a functional adult.
Ruining Art With A Price Tag
I didn’t mean for this post to turn into another art piece.
I really wanted to tell you about the projects I’m working on. My creations. My babies. My soul in the form of art.
Because I am working on songs for an album I’d like to record and publish soon. It’s been a year in the making. I’m an acoustic musician with just a guitar and my voice singing overly cliche love songs about women.
Because I am writing a book of my memoirs, which should be interesting enough based on my life story even if I were a horrid writer. Which, I can say with some confidence, I am not.
Because I have somehow managed to live without a full-time salary since the end of 2011, but my bills are all starting to catch up with me and I’m drowning in the reality of not having money. Yet I am still addicted to the idea of focusing my time and energy on creating.
Because I wanted to ask you if you were interested in helping support my creations.
But I’ve now written this piece about my irresponsibility and selfishness instead.
I am once again standing at the precipice between the self-doubt of the validity of my work and the self-indulgence of believing that I deserve to be supported in these endeavors. Honestly, I don’t think I deserve it at all, but my desire to create and need to put my art in the world is stronger than what I think I deserve.
I’m doing what I can to make better decisions and support myself with real work (I am available for commissions!). But these pieces of my soul desperately need life and I’m hoping that bringing them into the world is something that people will benefit from and enjoy.
But money is a real issue for me.
I need help supporting my day-to-day life so I can keep creating. I’d like to spend more energy creating more often because I can stop worrying about the bills. If you have any inclination that either my music or my writing will bring you happiness or entertainment in some small way, it would be amazing and mind-blowing if you could contribute. These dollars go straight to a minimal grocery budget, paying rent, and paying utilities – and that’s it.
Because sooner or later, this whole artist thing is gonna kill me.
Aside: If you contribute anything at all, I’ll shoot you the MP3 download of my home recordings of my favorite songs so far. Even if you can’t contribute, sharing me and my projects with people is the next best thing. Like this post. Share it places. Venture outward: my music and my other projects both have Facebook pages, here and here.