Here I sit (oh woe is me!) pole-axed by the trauma, the trauma, but struggling onwards with my art. Another rejection letter …boom - another picture! A row with my friend…boom - another piece of work! I wallow in despair at life in general…boom – more art. But is it enough? Shouldn’t my life be spirit-sappingly and relentlessly awful? Well, dedicated artists must endure eternal suffering. Shouldn’t they?
A man I know who’d endured a run of various disappointments, was then left heartbroken when his girlfriend left him. He was shown little sympathy by another mutual friend, who laughed and bluntly informed him that suffering would make him a better artist. I disagree. What makes a great artist is talent, skill and great ideas, not misery.
Any notion of beneficial suffering establishes a repeated cliché: the tormented, holy artist - soulful and sad. But such an emphasis conflates suffering with inspiration. Jack Kerouac forced himself to experience poverty, jumping on trains and living as a self-imposed hobo. Then, he went home to his aunt’s house to write in peace and safety. The suffering was research, his poverty was a lifestyle choice.
I’ve just read a biography of Keats, who died young of a horrible, incurable disease. He was a happy poet, who had fun, liked a drink and went to parties (‘Party is not a verb!’ © Black Books.) But Keats made his best work in the last months of his life not because he was dodging the grim reaper, but because he was barely twenty-five and his skills were maturing.
I went blind for a while. I don’t think I would have seriously considered visual art without that experience; I began to make work depicting encounters and experiences I had during that very difficult time. In all honesty, blindness gave me ideas. Nothing more.
Artists are very good at griping, and sometimes have much to gripe about. I know of artists with time-consuming, exhausting full-time jobs, who must rise at daybreak to make work, or else they’d have no time. They might be ground down by tedium, but at least they have an expressive outlet.
Recently, I saw some amazing work by a Chinese artist, soon to return home. It was called ‘Thirty-Five’ since this is the number of casualties traditionally announced by the Chinese government following any accident or disaster, no matter how high the real figure. The maker admitted he dare not bring the work back, or even exhibit in his own country. Next to this piece was another work: a curtain obscuring examples of the websites he was banned from reading at home. Now that’s suffering.
Ultimately, I suppose that in this blog’s pioneer spirit of trying everything and experimenting for art, I should get myself a heroin problem, or imitate Tracy Emin, that is – acquire fabulous riches, becoming so irked and inconvenienced by wealth that I am inspired to make some very, very bad drawings.
So readers, can you help me out? In order that I can suffer effectively, can you please send me lot’s of heroin and money?
Actually; take that back - I’ll just have the money. Thanks!