Artists may be more vulnerable to the slings and arrows than most people. Even the egocentric and bubbly among us can be sensitive and touchy. Personal failings, as well as monetary and relationship problems, lie heavily on us, affecting our mood-swings and the quality and energy we put into our creative and other life. In some cases, including mine, the result is spots of anger, irrational exuberance, minor paranoia.
Why? I think partly because of our aloneness. Creativity comes with a load of private responsibility. We dream, conceive, plan, assemble, execute, and often distribute–with little or no help from anyone. Two or three failures in a row, in lifemanship or in our art, can depress us and cause a setback. It’s always seems to me that a main part of our job is maintaining some sort of self-delusory defense. Call it what you will–attitude, habit, character. An admirable quality I often note in artists is the intelligent way they are able to deal with the ups and downs. Here are a few systems:
Confessional: It’s good to have someone to whom you can confess and share the deepest and most intimate feelings of concern. One needs a like-minded fellow traveller for this. A generic guru or hourly counsellor will not do. The person must be “significant.” One of these as a friend is a treasure beyond rubies.
Work-therapy: No matter how low the ebb, the immersion in actual work goes a long way toward the cure. The cycle is recranked, the hands and brain are satisfied, and even if the results are less than perfect the primacy and individuality of the soul is reaffirmed. A thought in mind, a tool in hand, and we are again lost in our own world.
Blessing-mentality: You may go to sleep counting your blessings, but it’s better to go to work counting them. When you can see your cup running over, it does.
PS: “It has done me good to be parched by the heat and drenched by the rain of life.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Esoterica: An area of vulnerability is the potential intimidation we may feel by those perceived to be more successful. This worry is quickly routed when we step back from our smaller horizons and look at the big picture. Keep in mind that Picasso was jealous of Braque, and Braque was jealous of Othon Friesz. (Who he?)
This letter was originally published as “Vulnerability” on April 20, 2001.
Wrapped in Misery (8 pieces)
oil painting by Liu Yuanshou, Beijing, China
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