Sunday, February 2, 2014

The State of Mind of Artists and Writers

A year ago today I went to Cypress Gardens in South Carolina. The temperature was only 54 degrees. I walked trails around the swamp and took a boat ride through water so black that the mirrored surface reflected everything. It was beautiful. I also saw my first alligator after being told it was “too cold for alligators.” The guide explained that the water looked black because of the tannin from the trees settling in the mud. The alligators, normally gray, actually turn black from it.

Please note: the comments below are not meant that I think ALL artistic people are this way.

This week I am reading a biography on Anne Sexton. Why is it I seem to pick up the books on writers and creative people who end up committing suicide? There is that – belief – that writers are a bit unstable and insane. Many creative people have the reputation of being addicted to sex, drugs, and alcohol.

I certainly understand the bit about being somewhat crazy. I often fall into the melancholy, too but what I notice is that most of these people are usually fighting against what society and family would have of them. This is especially true of women who had something inside that drove them away from the norms of motherhood and being a “good wife.” How hard it was for them feeling there was something wrong with them because they didn’t want what other women wanted and harder when society turned on them for not conforming. Grace Metalious of Peyton Place fame specifically comes to mind. She followed her heart and people admired and hated her. That and her insecurities drove her to drink herself to death.

However, men, too have fallen victim to their own minds. Van Gogh particularly comes to mind as does Edgar Allan Poe. (I personally think Picasso was an absolute nut job.) Of course, they say, “It takes one to know one,” so who am I to judge.  It’s certainly an intriguing subject. That driving force to create can be all-consuming and if it is buried, it definitely can cause one to go “crazy” and cause artists to act outrageously.

The most important thing for creative people is to get involved with other artists. We spend so much time alone doing our crafts that we need that balance of socializing. And for a lot of us, we often feel that others (normal people) don’t understand us. We are driven by what we love to do and yet, too much alone time is not healthy. Also, for some artists, their art, their muse, is the love of their life. The muse can be very jealous and for spouses and other family members who are not artistic, this has been the downfall of many relationships.

To read biographies of those who eventually gained recognition is helpful in understanding the psyche of artists. Maybe there has to be that borderline insanity to make a successful artist. There’s the drive to create that is so encompassing that the creative fire inside feels like it will consume you if you don’t let it out. Then there is the roller coaster of loving what you’ve created and the fear that no one will like it or understand. What is accomplished is your baby and negative criticism can be devastating.

I do understand. I understand how that desire inside can eat you alive if you try to squash it. I understand that creativity is like fire. It has to be fed and given air to be healthy or it will turn on you and burn you to ugly ashes. (I believe that people turn to atrocities because they’ve never learned how to let their creative fires burn clean.) I understand how one negative comment can crush an artist.

Love can tear an artist apart. You love your family. You love your art. You have to support a family. Some artists can do both, but many can’t. The flames of creative desire can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to make decisions. What IS the right decision? There are no easy answers. It’s easy to say, “Follow your heart,” but what then the consequences? If you spend all your time in creating and you are not a successful salesman, how are the bills paid?

A “real” job takes you away from creativity and so many jobs out there require conformity and kill creative spirit, what happens then? The creativity is bottled up until something eventually explodes… inside, in the mind, or in acts of violence. For some, these decisions are heartbreaking. What happens to a creative when the flames are dampened? It’s heartbreaking, soul-crushing and there you are torn between doing what’s right for family and following the muse.

Oh yes, there are many dilemmas to being an artist, but there are many joys, too. I love my life and yet, I can also understand that if things were different… What is one willing to do to be creative? What will a highly creative person do when the fires go out?

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