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The Myth of the Suffering Artist

There is no be-all-end-all work of art. No definitive statement will be made for all time by any of us, so let's take things a little easier and give our muses a little space to breathe.This is one reason why, as I writer, I favor stream-of-consciousness writing practice as a means of priming the pump. It allows me to simply tune in to whatever is wanting to come out of me at any given time. If I completely plan my work out ahead of time, I'm much more likely to be restrained by my own beliefs about what constitutes real art and what doesn't. Any moments that we reflect upon - not just the "deep" and "serious" existential speculations - contain something universal in human experience anyway.

So then what about this sticky notion that the artist must suffer? It's long been a cliché, this supposed truism. Addictions, suicidal temperaments, promiscuity, unbalanced behavior, misanthropy?all these things have been expected of the great creators of the human race almost as a matter of course.It's impossible to argue against the evidence that so many renowned artists were ? or are ? going off the rails. But what does pain really mean? It prompts us to seek ways to soothe or heal it. If we burn our hand on a hot stove, the pain is there to tell us to yank our hand away.

It is not a negative feeling; it's a protective measure.Suffering, then, in the life of an artist is merely the impetus to embark upon the quest. Suffering means that the status quo has become too painful, stifling or debilitating for artists ? and so they must find their own way. The fruits of this search are what inspire the rest of us, their audience. Does this mean that our artists are supposed to endure physical and spiritual penury all of their lives? No! The purpose of suffering, again, is to prompt us to learn how to heal or otherwise alleviate it. Artists who die in despair never learned how to redeem themselves with their own art; in the end, they failed to be physicians for themselves in the way that they were for so many of us.

So, in answer to the eternal question "Is it necessary to suffer in order to be an artist?" I would say: "Yes ? but only at the onset." From there, the real creative path for each of us lies in finding our own personal answer, the means to fulfill ourselves without relying upon society's prescription for reality.

.Seth Mullins is the author of "Song of an Untamed Land". Visit his complete blog at http://www.


By: Seth Mullins


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