Suffering and the Artist’s Life

Contrary to a commonly held notion, we artists do not suffer more than other people.  There is so much unspeakable suffering in the world-from famine, war, and rampant disease-that many of us in the industrialized nations don’t even know the meaning of true suffering, including me.  I’m not saying that artists don’t have it…

tough in their own way, I’m just trying to keep perspective.

However, even if we do not suffer more than others, we do tend to feel things deeply.  This, combined with our inordinate sensitivities, seems to make the suffering more intense.  Couple that with the usual insecurities, spells of depression, and years of rejection, and baby you’ve got one suffering artist.

Or to quote good old Scott Fitzgerald: “…There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pinprick, but wounds still.  The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye…”

Will you suffer?

As surely as you eat, drink and breathe.  Will your work benefit from it?  If you choose.  Is this a necessary condition of being an artist?  I don’t know about ‘necessary,’ but I can say that it’s a common condition of our existence.

All right, so we suffer.  But by God, we know how to live too.  And by “we” I don’t mean just artists, but anyone who lives sensually, and through the power of their creativity-whether in the art world or the corporate world.

Is there a gift here?

Few people are given the gift to live life with true intensity. Few people are able to feel fully alive between the spells of suffering.  The sense of suffering is merely part of the price exacted for the qualities that make up your talent. And since you have to pay to play, I suggest that you to do so willingly.  The alternative is to live an unenlightened existence.

And I ask you, isn’t that a common enough condition already?  And aren’t you glad it isn’t yours?

3 Responses to “Suffering and the Artist’s Life”

  1. Ed Roach says:

    Paul, maybe suffering is too harsh a word.

    Creative minds in our society may have a small chip on their shoulder, (mine included). Many creatives I know are closet loners. Because of their creative outlet, their creative work is typically insular and thus a form of artistic masturbation :)

    Growing up we were the different ones, and we took a lot of grief because of it. Most great artists whether painters, writers, musicians, sculptures etc. create in isolation, just them and their art. Many of the great impressionists puzzled the public around them.

    Their hardship starts when they must go into the greater world and sell. They are not comfortable salesmen and there is the rub. It’s not a comfort zone, that’s for sure.

    Suffer the one maybe?

  2. Ariane Goodwin says:

    Ed, I’m thinking you and Paul are on the same continuum, just at different points on the scale of “suffering,” “difference,” and “hardships.”

    And, even though the common story is that artists are not comfortable selling their work, I’ve met quite a few who are.

    Comfort seems to be determined by the stories that artists tell themselves about the nature of “selling,” and where the collective story of salesperson vs artist has colluded.

    When selling is internalized as “hawking” a product it creates a very different outcome than when selling is understood as how you offer your work to the world so the right person who wants it can offer you value for value.

  3. Bob Ragland says:

    When artists sell their work, it gives them a chance to make and sell more. To suffer as an artist is to not be able to heat and eat, in my opinion. I like to pay my way as an artist.
    I will sell , sell ,sell on purpose. Purity leads to the poorhouse.

    I paid for my house with my artistic effort.
    My car also.

    I will art on.
    Bob Ragland

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