(Henry Wallis’s painting of Thomas Chatterton (20 November 1752 – 24 August 1770), who was an English poet and forger of pseudo-medieval poetry. He died of arsenic poisoning, either from a suicide attempt or self-medication for a venereal disease.)
I was going to start this post with a list of all the Creatives who have damaged themselves for the sake of their art. I lay in bed the other night, trying to compile a list of them. There were a lot, and those were just the ones I could come up with at 3am!
And why bother? We know who they were. We know the names of Rothko, Hemingway, Woolf, Pollock, Kerouac, Kinski, Dylan Thomas, and so very many others.
We conveniently don’t notice the ones like Grayson Perry, and Tracey Emin, who credit their art with saving them. (I’ve made links to autobiographies here, and I encourage you to read them, as they are enormously inspiring.)
We certainly don’t remember the millions of artists who, over the course of the last two millennia, have lived happy, healthy and fulfilling lives as well as making art of all kinds.
You don’t have to suffer in a garrett to be an artist. You don’t have to drink yourself to death, take drugs, cut yourself, starve yourself, tolerate life in abusive relationships, live in squallor or destroy your health. That is not what an artist is.
An artist is someone who makes art.
(Whatever kind of art that is, from writing to painting to dance.)
Just that. Nothing else. Just that.
Creativity is the greatest healing force in the Universe. I know this because I have seen it and felt it for myself. When you begin to create, you end suffering. You will feel better. I promise.
And yes, it will be frustrating at times, and maybe you will cry your way through every chapter, every linocut, every sculpture, every pas de deux, as you work through all the difficult feelings that come up. Because lets not kid ourselves, people who create great art of all kinds are often driven to do so because of their own difficult pasts.
So maybe writing 500 words a day is like getting blood out of a stone for you? There are ways to deal with that, but remember that struggle often comes from deep hurts from long ago, from entrenched behaviours that stop you being your most luminous self. And if you write those words, every day, you will get through those barriers, and you will feel wonderful.
I know because it happened to me. And continues to happen. Every day.
If you think that you cannot communicate accurately to your readers the misery and suffering of your characters without having lived it yourself, I will tell you the secret of how you can do without nailing yourself to a cross.
Three little words:
Imagination, empathy and research. And the most important of these is IMAGINATION.
Imagine yourself in their place. How would you feel? What would distress you the most about their position. Read up. Find out how other people felt who went through similar traumas.
DO NOT TRAUMATISE YOURSELF.
Eat well. Get enough sleep. Value yourself. Work at having loving and fulfilling relationships with others. Exercise. Meditate. See the doctor and the dentist if you need to. Use your art to heal whatever wounds you have. Care for yourself, and your art will be the better for it. As will you.