As a writer it only made sense to kick off the A-Z Challenge with a post about Authors and as an artist to throw in a few Artists as well. I have a few thoughts of my own (every once in a while I manage to keep one or two in my head) but I thought I’d post Kurt Vonnegut’s thoughts:
“There’s no question about it. It’s an extremely high-risk situation. People are willing to take these extraordinary chances to become writers, musicians, or painters, and because of them, we have a culture. If this ever stops, our culture will die, because most of our culture, in fact, has been created by the people that got paid nothing for it – people like Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Van Gogh or Mozart. So, yes, it’s a very foolish thing to do notoriously foolish, but it seems human to attempt it anyway.”
-Interview by Michael Schumacher: Vonnegut on Writing
What makes people want to endure the pains that go along with producing creative works? What makes them want to risk humiliation, failure, criticism, and public speculation? Based on what I know about many famous artists, writers and musicians, a tortured past is a must have. I can’t decide if having a tortured past is by itself pre-requisite or if being tortured yourself mentally and emotionally at your own hands is also a must.
It is a well known concept that genius walks a fine line next to madness. Many creative geniuses suffered from a variety of mental illnesses. I believe I can safely say that being creative does not drive you mad rather it is the opposite. I think being insane begets creativity.
Back to my theories. Kay Redfield Jamison opens her book Touched with Fire, which is all about how
“We of the craft are all crazy,” remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. “Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”
Say it ain’t so Lord Byron. Alas, a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry in 1987 on creativity and mental illness revealed 80% of writers had some lifetime mental illness. I could probably scrounge up some more recent research as this topic is heavily studied but I no longer have access to the university’s membership to psychiatric or psychology journals.
Creativity begins where thinking inside the box ends. You make waves by rocking the boat, by shaking things up. When you make waves, you get noticed. Nobody gets noticed for sitting in their designated seat on the boat. You simply must do what you must do. Creative people feel a burning desire to stand up, to make a scene, cause a ruckus and tip the boat over if necessary.
I think this happens because many mental illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder, from which many authors and artists suffer, causes a lowering or complete lack of inhibitions. Those walls that non-mentally ill people toss up that say “this isn’t possible” or “you can’t or shouldn’t do that” simply don’t exist. Impossible is just not in the vocabulary of the mentally ill.
As crippling as depression can be there is still an element of release, of freedom from rules. It may just be the feeling that you have nothing left to lose so why not put it all out there? It seems counterintuitive to say that although a person lacks the will to get out of bed their mind reaches new levels of creativity and breaks past what anyone else has thought. But it happens. When the mind is freed of normal activities, routine living and functioning, it goes to strange places.
Those strange places are where great music, art and literature are found. It is the obscure recesses of the human heart, the darkened corners of the mind and the distant reaches of the universe where the creative find their material. They go wherever their mind takes them. They can then, and this is key, turn around and create a masterpiece that conveys what they have seen and felt to the rest of the world.
If they are a writer they describe it so that you feel what they feel, what they want you to experience. If they are an artist you see what they have seen, you perceive the darkness or the light they want to show you. If they are a musician they relay their encounters through sound. Great musicians create a feeling within you when you hear their music, it ‘speaks’ to you.
There are those who will argue and say that drinking or drugs can take anyone to those same strange places. While these substances may indeed offer such escape they by no means make someone an author or artist. Being an author or artist requires the ability to not only transcend but capture the experience and relate it to others in a meaningful way. Not everyone can write brilliant literature or music that evokes emotion.
I return to my original question, what makes people want to be creative and share that creativity with the world? The answer is simple. They do it because they couldn’t imagine not doing it. It is a way of life. It is what they must do. There is something inside that will settle for nothing less than exposure to the world. There is always the risk that what they have to share will be rejected by the world. In fact, it often is and far too many authors and artists never experience the joy of knowing the world loves their work.