Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just passing through....

So I went back to the source to see what sparked the response I found on Full Throttle and F**k It: Losing It

It got me thinking, which is always a good thing and I think I have to post. For those of you who would rather just have me tell you what the original post was about, too bad! Go read those two really great blogs! I'll wait........

done yet?


I think I have to beg to differ on some of this and I have to offer a "new" idea or two of my own.

Creative folks like to talk about "it"- the magic, the thing that keeps them going, their muses, etc. They (we?) talk about it like it's a tangible, concrete object that we've somehow inherited or found lying in the gutter. We look at it like it's a big secret that only a select few of us have managed to find...and then when they lose "it" they either hang up the brushes, or they put up the pens or walk away from their novel or whatever. Some of the more attention starved ones choose to openly mope about how they used to be this or that and some tend to go sit quietly in a corner and wait it out and some choose to kill themselves.

So this is where I start to get a little...argumentative.

I don't think that there is a magic inherent to artists-at least not in the sense that most people consider. I think it comes down to something more universal-perhaps passion, or perspective. I say passion because a person without at least a shred of passion could very easily fall into the same holding patterns as all these artists who chose to end their lives early. Any person, mind you, without at least some interest in what the next day holds, or what the next month holds or the next minute holds, can find themselves considering some pretty drastic measures, just to shake things up a bit. People express their passion or at least interest in life in lots of different ways, some creatively, some not. We're all familiar with this-you dress a certain way, you order a decadent dessert just for the fun of it, you go on vacation to a place you love or a place you've never been, etc. etc.

Some people choose to paint. Or write. Or draw. Or sing. Or write music. They choose to express their passion or interest or opinions in things/life in a more direct way. I argue that it's when they become jaded towards their life or their environment that they begin to think they've lost the ephemeral creative "it".

You see it all the time. Artists stop creating because they stop caring. It happens to people all the time, it's just more noticeable by the time you've gotten famous enough to see your name in print, in lights or on an award or two here and there. It's also different because when you break through the fourth wall the exists between those who are famous and those who are not, everyone has an opinion on what you're doing. So if you have a bad day or year or month and you put work out anyway and it doesn't jive with the perception of what your work should be, people start to accuse you of losing "it" when really, maybe you just didn't care about the flowers as much this year as you did last year for whatever reason.

So let's say an artist stops caring and therefore stops creating. They haven't lost the spark that makes them creative, or talented. They could still sit down and draw the pants off anyone that challenges them probably, or outsing the best contestant on American Idol (idle...) or whatever-but they don't. Because they're over it.

Sometimes this can feel like they've lost their spark when really they're just bored. Thinking of the magical, artistic "it" lets people off the hook-it makes it seem like they have some special vision that makes the world more interesting or more exciting to them-so much that they just have to sit down and paint a picture of it in an attempt to convey that magic. I think the reality is that staying engaged in life enough to where things really do seem that intriguing takes work. Lots of work.

It's the same problem most adults have I think-you look at kids and most things are new and exciting because well, they haven't lived long enough to figure out the tricks behind the magic-as adults we come to expect certain things-cause and effect. Beautiful sunsets, etc. If those things are going to remain surprising and engaging, we have to choose to treat them as though they are new and exciting and different. It takes a great deal of effort sometimes I think to remind ourselves to stay engaged. Whether that means that we're going to wake up every morning and just make an effort or whether that means we're going to wake up and sit down at our respective Muse Centrals and "do" something with what we see or feel, is entirely up to us.

The other thing that you need to consider is that people have different desires to do things. I'll use my friends as examples. I have friends who are artists and friends who are creative and friends who are practical and all these things....each one of them is plugged in and engaged in life-they just desire to express that connection differently than, say, me. So some of us choose to paint and play with silks because we get really excited about the colors of the sunset last week-some of them choose to sit down and code some really complex computer languages because they just care how things work. But we're all plugged in to life. If my computer coding friends woke up one morning and suddenly didn't give a damn, they wouldn't lament that they had lost their ability to create code. They wouldn't think of it as having lost their "it". They would probably either relax and wait until something new developed technologically that got them excited or they would go back and revisit some of their older stuff to see if they could make it better or whatever.

Two more points and then I'll move on I promise:

One of the points that Steve brought up (which you all know 'cause you read his post...ahem. (c: ), is that perhaps Hemingway should have waited it out, spent less time concerning himself with what was, etc. etc. I couldn't agree more, but I think it has to do with social context. At the time that Hemingway and Jack London and all them were having their breakdowns, it wasn't socially acceptable to talk about your feelings, really (maybe moreso with Jack London's time, but he was a notorious drunk who, I think, personally, just got lucky...and wasn't real stable to begin with..), and I don't think the same essential skills of socially taking a break, or working through a tough period, etc. etc. had been instilled.

I'm reading "Lila" right now by Robert Pirsig and he talks about how the rebels following the Victorian era who were against all the stuffy reason, logic, manners and pomp of the times were able to rebel against it without any negative impacts on the overall society because they had been raised with an inherent social structure. They had a certain level of moral quality (his words, not mine) instilled in them and therefore the overall societal structure didn't suffer because of their personal rebellion. So fast forward to today-we have all that inherent, societal "talk it out", "processing," "closure", "becoming more centered" , dialogue programmed into us, whether we want it or not really, and therefore are better equipped to just wait out the tough periods, or change our focus, etc...Picasso didn't have that luxury. And he was clinically insane, without the same level of coping or medical help available to those of us today, so societally I think the odds were against these guys being able to work through their ennui.

Or perhaps they really were just sparks of genius that have gone out of existance. I don't know.

In the case of Johnny Cash, I think he was fortunate enough to live through the time periods that dicatated that you made it big and then you faded away-and he was blessed with enough internal flexibility to recognize the opportunities he had when he had them. He went back to what he cared about-the guitar and the lyrics and the music and the act of doing what he did. It stopped becoming about what his previous songs had become and kept being about what he was probably chasing to begin with-the passion for playing the guitar.

I could be wrong-there is such a thing as doing things purely because you are an opportunist and you're blessed with the talent to pull some things off better than others and there ya go, paycheck at the end, a little bit of fame, some comback action and your equation for success is completed. But I prefer to think that some of the really ingenious, creative people out there, aren't quite their creations.

So, to bring all this to an end-talent will carry you a long ways, so will love of fame and the desire to be the center of attention-but when it comes down to it, you have to care about what you're doing and that takes work. It's a lifestyle and not an "it" that is always out of reach or always threatening to dissappear. You either have the drive to keep caring or you don't.

It's the whole "the unexamined life is not worth living" thing-you have to care enough to peek under the rock and let that curiosity drive you to express what you see in whatever way comes naturally.

I'll put my soapbox away for now.

1 comment:

Steve Malley said...

That's one wisdomous head on your shoulders, there!

I think you're totally right: it's about the passion and the pursuit, not the destination. For me, those times my mojo went away were times when the passion faded and the prize didn't seem worth the effort.

You pointed something out that I hadn't noticed: I've never lost my sense of engagement, only had it shift out from under me in new directions. Which, when I think about it, is pretty cool. :)

Don't forget that Hemingway too was something of a legendary drinker. Didn't help, either, that the (then-fashionable) electroshock treatments used to treat his depression often made the patients suicidal. Talk about being a victim of his times!

And do you think PIcasso was mentally ill, or just an asshole? :)