Alright gang. It’s been a minute but I think I’ve got my brain sorted out enough to get back into the blogging game. And boy howdy is there a topic to talk about today so grab your drink of choice (mine’s coffee today) and settle in for what might be a difficult discussion.
*clears throat and puts on Firebrand!Calamity hat*
The Tortured Artist as Romantic Trope is BULLSHIT.
‘Con-Crunch’. ‘Consummate Perfectionist’. ‘Starving Artist’. ‘Suffer for your Art’. ‘I work best under stress’. There’s a lot of names for it, but it boils down to the same thing: True Artists suffer for their art. It’s also bullshit to think that this is romantic or worth glorifying like a badge of honour.
People can hold up Van Gough as the poster child of suffering = art all they want. But I’ll tell you right now: it wasn’t his depression (or lead poisoning) that created ‘The Starry Night’. It was the man who fought to improve and better himself every day, and the man who made wonderful art IN SPITE of his hardships.
Art isn’t made good just because the Artist is suffering. Suffering isn’t a requirement. It’s something to manage, cope and surmount. It’s something to create good art in spite of. It’s too easy to assume that toxic habits are ‘just part of our artistic process’ or ‘how we work best’. But, guess what?
Pulling all-nighters for every costume, taking on too many projects, or basing our identities upon these kind of issues isn’t healthy. It’s not manageable in the long term, however you choose to look at it: physically, mentally or psychologically. Let me tell you, there is nothing glamourous about being so burnt out that you stare at a wall for hours without realising time’s passed. Or that you can’t face doing something you used to love doing because you’ve exhausted your energy on it and you don’t have anything left to step back to. There’s nothing romantic about that. I’ve been there, and I know I’m not the only one who’s had a moment, where I wasn’t sure how I’d ended up pouring so much of myself into a project that I was left too hollow to cry.
THIS A METAPHOR.
Now I can say that exactly 0.00% of my self-inflicted burnouts were worth it.
But Calamity, I’ve been told before, how do you know that this isn’t just OUR normal? That the stress and depression and anxiety over perfection isn’t how we best work?
And how do you know that it is? Have you truly tried to change? Sleeping regular hours, eating healthily? Finding balance with your life? If you have, and you find that regular
It isn’t our demons that define us, it’s what we do with the demons.
And we all have our flaws. We’re human. It’s important to acknowledge them, to know they’re there and be okay with the fact we’re just human. It’s just equally important to learn how to manage these flaws so that they don’t take over our identity and life.
Wherein Calamity gets Philosophical About Art, Life and Stuff
I promise I’ll keep this part short, and not wax on about philosophy like a first-year lib arts student.
Personal Growth leads to Artistic Growth
Without being able to recognize issues and flaws, it can be difficult for us to address issues that are holding our art back.
In journalism, there’s an expression ‘Kill your darlings’ that applies to all arts. Sometimes we fall in love with something, a story idea, a technique for painting armor, the safety of a flaw as our identity, and without every questioning the validity of our darlings, we can’t see when it’s best to embrace them, and when it’s best to let them go. Working under stress might help in extreme situations, but it’s not good for EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Look up adrenal fatigue or cortisol. Or hell, high blood pressure.
Personal growth is challenging and scary and involves admitting things about ourselves we might not want to (like do we even HAVE an identity outside of this art, flaw, trait?). But without it we turn stagnant. And stagnation breeds Cholera and mosquitoes.
So. How can we shake off this Trope and move forward to better art and better lives?
1. Acknowledge that everyone has a different speed of change.
By the way, I’mma pre-empt you here by saying that 0mph is NOT a valid speed, physics definition or no. Now that that’s out of the way, it’s perfectly okay to acknowledge that you might be one of the slow-bandaid type people: only able to take change in small but manageable amounts. Your friend might be a quick-bandaid type, rip it off all in one go. That’s okay too.
It’s the process and what it means to you that will help the most. I promise.
2. You might feel guilty.
Again, this is different for each person. For me, when I started stepping back and evaluating my life and what my destructive habits were, I felt guilty for not being able to say ‘yes’ to every friend that asked for help or invited me to join in a project.
I still want to do ALL THINGS EVER. It’s an urge that I have to manage but I don’t feel as guilty as I used to when I recognize that a project is out of my scope of ability.
3. Talk to a friend about it
This probably won’t start out as a comfortable discussion. But true friends care about you and chances are they see some of your artistic habits for what they are: a little too intense, a little too self-destructive. If you’d like, ask them to help you stay accountable. Maybe even set a ‘code phrase’ that means very specifically ‘hey kiddo, you’re doing that harmful thing again. How about you slow that roll.’
4. Sit down and have a hard conversation about yourself… with yourself.
Hm. Yes. Let’s get a pic of our issues, self.
Ask yourself if you’re addicted to the stress. Then ask yourself again. It’s a stupid addiction, right? So why is it so hard for us to step back from a project and admit there’s too much on our plates?
Think about what you’re getting out of creating art, and ask yourself if you’re getting that for at lease 60% of the time you’re creating. Are you? Are you running dry on ideas and inspiration? Unless this is your day job, take a break. Recharge. Go out and get inspired by seeing the world or other art works, or however you best recharge your Art fuel tank.
5. Imagine your art habits as a Significant Other.
Turning down seeing friends to stay in and be with them, regularly keeping you up late at night even if you work the next day, asking you to book time off work to be with them, telling you that anything else aside from them isn’t worth your time. Guilting you into not spending every spare moment with them.
Would you allow that? Would you stay? I hope not. That’s some 50 shades of Gross right there.
So. Why is it okay to let yourself romanticize it as ‘being an artist’?
*takes off firebrand!Calamity hat*
Deep breaths. Okay. So. Obviously not everyone is like this. Not everyone, but enough that this is a topic I think deserves more discussion. I’d love to hear about your own coping skills when it comes to balancing art and struggles and just… everything.
If you’re interested to read more about finding balance, you can also check out my ‘Cosplay is Not Life or Death’ article.
Stay sane folks ,