Who came up with this concept?
Is it because van Gogh cut off his ear?
What does suffering actually entail?
The ‘suffering for your art’ saying came to mind a few days ago as I was sitting on my behind after falling off a rolling office chair.
Why was a 40+ year old person STANDING on an office chair you might ask. It is a valid question. I was standing on the office chair because it was the best way to take a quick photo, with my phone, of a large piece of artwork that I had finished and which was on sawhorses in my studio/ living area. There might be some other questions that the previous statement raises like:
Why didn’t you get a ladder?
Why snap a quick pic when you could set up the tripod and camera and get a good picture?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. I have a ladder, a 6′ ladder in fact, and two perfectly safe stepstools. I certainly understand the rationale behind taking good pictures of your artwork. But I don’t know why. It was an impulse. There was virtually no thought behind it, I just did it, like a Nike commercial but without athletism or grace. And because I’m not a standout in the NBA or in yoga class, I fell off … onto my butt.
In the process of falling I managed to knock into an old accoustic guitar sitting on a guitar stand so while my body throbbed and I reviewed the little mental ‘Did I break any part of me?’ checklist I heard the throbbing, thrumming sound of the old guitar as well. The guitar, like me, was unbroken. But in those moments sitting on the floor, after experiencing the wave of relief that comes from not breaking a bone, feeling the throbs of pain in my wrist, shoulderblade, and behind my first thought was “Is this what they mean by suffering for your art?” I actually chuckled out loud. The dogs were very concerned.
Later I duct tapped the guitar stand back together. But the phrase and the idea behind it was stuck in my head. Why would anyone have to suffer for their art? Chinese dissadents aside.
Art brings happiness, life, and vitality. Art creates discussion and provokes thought. It should be the antithesis of suffering even when it depicts suffering. So the statement ‘suffering for your art’ is a way of telling me that my life will be filled with woe because I am an artist? Perhaps choosing a diametrically opposite path like … I don’t know, accounting, would make my life happier and trouble free.
I have since decided that there are a lot of negative phrases and expressions and ideas out in the world that seem to exist solely for the purpose of messing with other people’s hopes, paths and dreams. Not just for artists, for eveyone. Comments like “Oh, at your age?” or “I don’t know how you do it” or “Better safe than sorry” all can inspire doubt or worry like the terms ‘starving artist’ or the phrase ‘suffering for your art.’ So, yes at my age, I just do it (again like a Nike commercial.) Safe leads to sorry in the form of life-long regret, I’m not starving, and if suffering means more than occasionally falling off a chair – nope. Not gonna do it. I’ll work, I’ll learn, I’ll try and in the process I’ll grow and evolve but I won’t suffer.
No one who tries and fails at something they love or at something they really want to do is sorry. They don’t suffer. They work longer, smarter, harder. They learn different skills or techniques and use the knowledge they gained from their 1st or 2nd or 367th time. They have no time for suffering.
I’ll get you next time guitar stand.