December 3, 2015

Killing the Myth of the Suffering Artist.

Photo by Helena Eslon

Hello, my name is Sara. I’m an artist and I enjoy my life.

That sounds almost radical, right?

I am tired of hearing that artists should suffer for their work. I think it’s an old myth, and it is about time to shake off that heavy weight from our shoulders. Creating is part of everyday life, and life, in general, is hard.

Artists are not different from plumbers, teachers or politicians. Being an artist is a choice like anything else.

I have studied arts for 24 years. When I was four, my parents enrolled me at the Art School of Children and Young People, where I stayed practicing all sorts of arts once a week for the next ten years. Since then I got a secondary degree in arts, BA in art education and finally, last year, master’s degree in arts.

During all these years in different art schools, I’ve never understood the suffering artist syndrome. I’ve heard these lines on repeat: “I’m an artist, so I will never make any money,” or, “As an artist I can only have complex relationships” or the classic, “No one will ever understand me.” We are the masters of making fun of ourselves.

“Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control.”
~ Julia Cameron

The truth is that artists actually can make money. We can be happy. We can be financially stable, and yet be artists. So let’s stop taking baths in self-pity.

We love to think that we are special and more unique than the rest of the crowd, which to an extent is true. Artists are sensitive. We are rebels and we like to shake the norms of society and twist the ready-made models.

Most creative types are not getting enough money for their work, and that sucks. When you get commercial clients, you will get all the blames of “selling your soul.” That sucks too. From time to time we might face creative blocks, and we might not have enough privacy or time to cherish our practice.

Yeah, that’s all true. At the same time, there’s no need to suffer and use that negativity as the base of our identity—or even worse, stop making art at all for the same reasons.

“Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is a fundamental aspect of this work – perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of this work.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

In my opinion, we should update the concept if we want to progress. We must start to value our work so much that other people are ready to pay for it (and I am not talking about twenty dollars a week, I am talking about the kind of a money that covers your bills and a ticket to your favorite festival).

Artists are here to explore, to stay curious and seek the alternative. Most of the time our work is like doing research, trying to stretch beyond the unknown. That’s why creative work is unique. That is what life is all about, and that’s the reason to continue, no matter what.

“A writer who makes serious money is never taken seriously. Writers and artists are expected to suffer poverty and privation for their art; it’s a sign of “authenticity.”
~ Jessica Zafra

Last summer, I was painting a commercial outdoor mural, and a French artist came to talk to me. In her opinion, I was selling myself to the devil. She said that all artists should have secondary jobs at the restaurants or cafés in order to save their freedom. I listened to her words carefully.

The thing is, I don’t enjoy working at the cafés. I’ve tried it, and that definitely wasn’t making me a better artist or a happier person. I told her that actually, I was really enjoying what I was doing, surrounded by bright colors and listening to music. My painting gig was boosting my personal creativity. It didn’t only build up my self-confidence as an artist, but also fattened my bank account temporarily. I got paid well for it, because I got the guts to ask the money for it, even though I had never painted anything outdoors before.

“The success of other artists is good for me.”
~ Andrew Simonet

One of my art teachers told me that I should never become an artist. “It’s a horrible life choice,” he said. He was always angry and bitter and he loved to shout at young students. I wondered why he made that choice then. Who told him to be an artist? I’m quite sure that it was his own choice, but as his student, I felt that I was somehow responsible of that decision.

I don’t think that it is radical or progressive for artists to blame others, because by doing so we are widening the gap between “them” and “us.”

We can do better than that.

Next time, if you can’t get your book published, article sold or the art council grant you wanted, take it as part of the process. Breathe in, breathe out and continue creating. Network. Work hard. Make goals and remain realistic. Get that second job if it works for you, find your passion in other creative fields, but promise yourself that you will always try to progress. Then, focus on all sorts of other wonderful things as well in the meantime.

“We aren’t suggesting that mental instability or unhappiness makes one a better poet, or a poet at all; and contrary to the romantic notion of the artist suffering for his or her work, we think these writers achieved brilliance in spite of their suffering, not because of it.”
~ Dorianne Laux

We live in goddamn 2015, why should we bow to the old masters’ miseries?

Creating, after all, is not that serious.

Of course, I have cried my heart out and poured my anger and injustice into my works, suffered from loss and written long poems about it. Art has helped me to deal with difficult life situations. It’s not the arts’ fault that I suffer. I’m so sick of taking things so damn seriously. I draw, I paint, I photograph, I curate and I write. I’m a yogi and a health food addict, but I also love my red wine and cheese and rave nights out.

And it’s okay. In the end, no-one really cares, if that makes me happy, right?

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
~ Franz Kafka

My tips for being a happier artist:

1. Read this e-book, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
2. Define yourself a goal where you want to be in five years’ time, three years’ time and next year. Think what you can do today, this week and next month to pursue that dream.
3. Write morning pages.
4. Create a vision board of the things you would like to have in your life.
5. Don’t do art. Walk in the woods, have sex, travel and treat yourself with your favorite food. Spoil yourself a little!


Relephant Read:

How to be a Thriving Artist.


Author: Sara Kärpänen

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Used with permission from Helena Eslon


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