Is the art I create worth the suffering I experience?
“It’s a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
And I'm feeling good.”
- Nina Simone, Feelin Good
Not now, not always..
Is the art I create worth the suffering I experience?
Is it possible to appreciate the beautiful paintings of Vincent Van Gogh without pausing to think about the workings of his mind? Is it possible to listen to the beautiful melodies sung by Nina Simone without also thinking about the battles she faced within? Paintings created in the midst of a chaotic world, much dwelling within the mind. Powerful music sung through the pain, much resting inside.
Beautiful are the paintings we make with these brushes, soothing are the songs we sing with our lips, breathtaking are the words we string together to create stories, but often troubled are the minds they pour from. The connection between creativity and mental illness is one that is hard to deny. Though creativity does not require mental illness to thrive, many who make their lives within the arts are no strangers to struggles within. The link between these can be left for science, as I am no expert, only one with personal experiences, and the collective stories of others who experience the same. Many artists, who I share conversations with, and others who I have listened to, have been open about the darkness that proceeds their work, and about the struggles that push them into creativity.
I presume it is no far stretch to say creativity has been present in our world for the extent of humanity’s existence. If a mind exists, so does the capability of creation. If we can guess that creativity has lived as long as man, we can also guess that struggles within the mind have as well. If a mind exists, surely a “broken” mind does as well. For whatever reason the two find themselves joined at many places. I will not dive into it this post, because I want to rest on one question we share within this community: “Is the art I create worth the suffering I experience?”
As a child, I spent many days withdrawn from my family and friends. Where others found fun in video games and sports, sleepovers and outings, I found peace and solace in creativity. Designing and cutting out clothes from construction paper, coloring scenes pictured within my mind, putting together food that pleased the taste buds, making music that calmed, writing words that freed, or penning jokes in my notebook(I wanted to be a comedian lol), all of it brought me peace as a kid. Misunderstood and undiagnosed mental illness drove me into my room many days, often to be met by tears and confusion. I sadly pressed through my younger years, not realizing that my mind was wired a bit differently, and that this particular suffering would be chained to me throughout life. I rested on some assurances. I could create. I could make sound in empty space, I could make blank paper colorful, and I could make words tell a story. How beautiful to be the kid whose constantly told they are so creative, so innovative, and so special. Yet how horrible to be the kid who suffers with weird sadness and difficult thoughts that seem to come from nowhere, that plague him and not his friends. This is not your normal?
As we grow older, some things are certain to happen. One of these sure things is the reality that life will ultimately guide us to our purpose, mine being art. Another sure thing, is that our minds will continue to shape our lives. I am not certain if many think about the meeting of purpose and the shape of their thoughts, but for the artist, it often finds itself at the center of conversation. A whole host of mental illnesses live within our world, and finding someone who lives that struggle is not difficult. But even more so, finding them amongst a group of artists is quite easy, and almost certain. We often wonder, are the tears we shed worth the paintings that flow from these brushes?
How beautiful to find freedom, but where do we find it? This is only a guess, but what if the troubled mind finds freedom in art as a tool of survival? Maybe it is not solely for others that we create, but maybe we do so for internal freedom. If our minds hold such incredible darkness, maybe we paint to give our eyes colors to gaze at. If our ears are used to the deafening silence of sadness, maybe we sing to give our ears a chance to hear. Maybe if hurt rests within, we pen words of love to give our hearts a chance to breathe. Maybe if life often loses taste, we cook to experience something outside of our mind’s norm. Maybe if life’s struggles leaves us feeling naked, we create beautiful clothes to feel covered. Maybe creativity is the tool we use to break free from mental bondage. Maybe we have found fearlessness in creation, a rebellious destruction of the locks that hold us.
Imagine the world enjoying the sight of men and women trying their best to break free from prison. Captive to their own thoughts, sentenced to life without any possibility of getting away. Who knew the bending of bars could sound so beautiful. Who knew the digging of tunnels underneath these floors could look so colorful. Who knew plotting and planning escape could be so incredible? And yet, that is precisely what we do for the world. We plot and plan our freedom, and it shines as beautiful art. We fearlessly attempt to get away, and it pours out in captivating stories. We bend these bars to climb out, and the world hears the songs. We dig these tunnels, and the world sees these paintings.
And maybe that makes the suffering we experience worth the art we create. That in creation, unconsciously at many times, we are showing the rest of the world how to relentlessly search for, fight for, and find freedom. Maybe, in our desperate attempts to stay alive, we are teaching others how to live. Maybe in our seemingly hopeless tries to stay afloat, we are teaching others how to fly above the water. Maybe in our dire efforts to grasp reality, we are showing others how to live in peace. To courageously seek freedom is to live without fear. Maybe through our fearless attempts to experience freedom, we teach others to be fearless.
Out of our pain, you find enjoyment. Out of our struggle, you find an easier path. Out of our darkness, you find beautiful light. Out of our chaotic minds, you find peace within your own. Out of our creation, you find a new level of comfort. Out of our paintings, you find an escape. Out of our music, you find new hope. Out of our photographs, you find new dreams. Out of our clothing, you find new confidence. Out of our words, you find new worlds.
For creatives who were claimed tragically, some sadly to their own hands, I dare not answer the question. I dare not attempt to say, for them, or for anyone, that they would have traded their creative contributions for a “normal” life without chaotic thoughts. Beautiful, that they live beyond their physical presence. Beautiful, that others still find life in their art, and out of their creations, a continued desire to live and grow. I dare not answer for creatives now. We find ourselves often battling internally.. and I am unsure, truthfully, if I would trade creativity for peace. My mind often rests on Van Gogh and Simone. Painfully battling against their own thoughts, yet sharing freedom to many. Going to war within, each day without fear. Sometimes locked within prisons in their minds, but making desperate attempts to break free, and stay free. Because of this, they continue showing millions how to stand outside the limits. And my God, how beautiful are the moments we temporarily stand outside of those prisons and feel like birds in open air! How beautiful are the moments we breathe without fear of our thoughts suffocating us.
“Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel.”
- Nina Simone, Feeling Good
If our fight to break free means the freedom of many, today, I will say it is all worth it. If chaos within my mind has touched thousands by way of art, then it is all worth it. If suffering internally, means freedom for the viewer of all I’ve created, then it is worth it. If my desperate attempts to break these chains and live freely at all times is cause for others to live freely, it is all worth it. If at my last breath, they assure me that it is okay to find sleep, because I will continue to live through what I’ve created, it would all be worth it..
To be creative and simultaneously chosen to live with some mental impairment, that is to be selfless. Some must decide if they will shed selfishness, yet we have that decided for us. Through pain within, we are constantly humbled by life. Through creativity to escape that pain, we are constantly serving others..
Is it worth it for you, to suffer for the sake of creativity?
Be well, friends.