It’s often said that when an artist gets comfortable (either with enough acclaim or financial reward) they stop creating. John Lennon once said he thought it was a myth, saying, “It’s easier to write on a cushion”. But is it?
The paradox of the creative soul is that the driver for their creativity is often to attain a peace and order of their own making, in their particular medium, from the turmoil that surrounds them. The creative process is by definition a manipulation of the environment in some way. But that process can only be initiated from a state of a personal struggle, of chaos, an itch. So if the creator finds themselves in their perceived successful state, where all is already peaceful and ordered, their creative journey is over. They have no driver to continue.
Popular belief tends to suggest that not only is the poor, struggling, unfulfilled artist more prolific, but their work is often perceived to be more worthy. But is this true?
In music, the blues, songs of unrequited love and of melancholy, born out of struggle, heartache and sadness are ranked far higher in terms of artist merit than formulaic happy love songs that are deemed cheesy in comparison.
Because creativity and problem solving are so entwined, can it be that the creative soul needs problems to work on or they lose their raison-d’etre? Like the detective who longs for a mysterious murder to solve, without which he is nothing.
Do we as artists have a faustian pact with darkness, that we need it, to have the light we create have contrast?
But it IS easier to write on cushions. It IS easier to work productively on your art when you’re not trying to keep the wolf from the door, be that threat of personal safety or financial security. Urgency does fire creativity, there’s no doubt, but urgent creativity draws upon emergency quick fixes as the brain tries to effectively fight or flight. Urgency gets results but the brain doesn’t allow itself the luxury of tapping into deeper subterranean caves for more inventive solutions.
The reason there are so many stories of struggling artists does not suggest that poverty is a vital ingredient to creativity, but that it’s simply a feature of it being so difficult for anyone to gain superstar status. It’s especially difficult when the artist is busy doing their art and not selling themselves, and so often artists are better at one than the other. Neither is mental illness a prerequisite. Again, we know those stories well as news favours sensationalism.
Many creatives realise that their joy comes from riding the paradox. It is the creative journey that they seek to enjoy. It’s not about reaching the destination. In many ways, it’s not possible to reach the destination just at it’s not possible to touch a rainbow.
Many creative people are good starters but poor finishers, they’re more likely to kick start another process while the previous one is still in motion. This act of plate spinning itself causes more dark pain of chaotic struggle. This struggle requires, and conjures, the kind of creative energy the creative soul so desires.
Creative people are fixers. They spot problems and try to fix them, or reflect them for others to understand better. The artist is both hero and villain, harnessing both darkness and light, logic and chaos, art and science. This is the paradox that the creative soul must embrace and surf in order to play their creative role in the world.
(The picture is Salvador Dalí’s, ‘The Persistence of Memory’, 1931, showing softness and hardness and unconscious symbols of the relativity of space and time and the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order. © 2007 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Dalí is a great example of an artist who produced consistent work during high levels of personal success, accolades and wealth.)
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