A subscriber wrote, “I wonder if you have any thoughts about channeling negative energy into creative endeavors. The other day, one of my most valued friends and I parted company. I was pretty upset by his obviously calculated quarrel, and went over to my studio and picked up and attacked an old unresolved painting. I’m quite happy with the results. Another time I was irritated with the monitor of a life-drawing class to the point that I almost left, but instead focused on my drawing and did some powerful sketches. Nice to know that good things can come from an upsurge of choler.”
Creative prowess comes from two main sources — love and anger. Surprisingly, anger works just about as well as love. Trouble is, it’s not as much fun and it kills you sooner.
Accepting and channelling anger, even if used only in a small portion of our active creative lives, is an art worth learning. And while some artists simply can’t work when they’re angry and suffer consequent lack of production, excellent lemonade can be made from some lemons.
Some observers have noted that artists may actually need stress and anxiety to get the best from themselves. Subscriber Bill Cannon wrote, “Mozart, Vivaldi and Van Gogh stretched their genius on struggle, stress and survival.” When we sit down to work with concerns like this, perhaps it is the fresh hope that we know the creative act will give us and the fear that this fresh effort may not work out. “Minds that are ill at ease are agitated by both hope and fear,” said the banished Greek poet Ovid more than two millennia ago.
I’m one of those annoying people who appears to have a perpetually sunny disposition. But stuff happens, as it does to us all. My antidotes may appear simplistic, but here they are anyway:
Plan work zones regardless of mood or conditions.
Through thick and thin, learn to be steady and strong.
Know that relationships are fluid and not everyone fits.
Lose yourself to the empowerment of the creative act.
Be philosophic in misfortune and disappointment.
The big dirt-nap is coming anyway, so keep busy.
Esoterica: It’s always been of interest to me that siblings from dysfunctional or negative family environments can turn out in so many different ways. One may be mired in inappropriate life-decisions and repeated failures, while another may rise above it all and happily thrive. Self-esteem is crucial. I’ve made a lifetime study of the nature of self-esteem in artists. It seems to me that developing self-esteem relies on a combination of tangible evidence and gentle self-delusion. For people of imagination, self-delusion may come easily, and this ability is not to be sneezed at.
This letter was originally published as “Channelling negative energy” on December 12, 2008.
“Whoever lives sincerely and encounters much trouble and disappointment without being bowed down is worth more than one who has always sailed before the wind and has only known prosperity.” (Vincent van Gogh)