The Myth of the Suffering Artist

Last week, I had been trying to get myself back on a kind of writing schedule. I kicked it off on Monday. I got up early, and got some writing done before reporting in (Figuratively speaking) for the day job.

It felt pretty good and I was glad that I’d done it and was looking forward to doing the same thing Tuesday, then the rest of the week.

3:00 am Tuesday, I had a flare up of kidney stones. For those of you who have had them, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you that haven’t, the following description will be a pale comparison.

Imagine a sharp, stabbing pain that you *Cannot* get away from, radiating through your lower back on one side (In my case it was my right side). The pain will vary in intensity sliding from barely tolerable to so intense it make me sick. No position, no body contortion, eased the pain. It woke me up at 3 in the morning, and I watched the sun rise, without a further wink of sleep. Non-prescription pain killers blunted it, and I spent the entirety of Tuesday trying to snatch sleep in 45 minute (on average – sometimes I was lucky enough to drop off for an hour, other times I couldn’t manage 30 minutes of sleep) chunks.

I didn’t eat anything for over 24 hours. The thought of food was enough to make me nauseous. I was *Never* not in pain and the next night, despite being exhausted, I spent in 45 minute chunks of fitful sleep.

This is painting with a broad brush because, honestly, if you’ve never had them, there is no bit of description that I can wield to put a fine point on it.

I’m typing this draft on Saturday afternoon, and this is the first time, I’ve had the mental capacity to do *Anything* creative.

Yet there are (Thankfully diminishing) schools of thought that it is in the depths of this pain where I would do my best writing. Only by somehow channeling that pain (and this can be either physical or emotional pain – which is ridiculous in itself, the two are hardly the same) into my writing, it will allow me to reach greater heights in evoking emotion, in resonating with the reader (who, apparently is only interested in misery because there’s no way you can express any kind of joy when you’re in so much pain you wish you could simply pass out for the “Sleep”).

The “Suffering Artist” idea is old, and it’s a lie that originated way back when some artists came to the realization that maybe it was possible – with a bit of skill and a lot of practice – that “Other” (read that as “More common”) folks could do what they were doing.

This was back in the days where “Artist” could be used as a occupation description and covered any creative pursuit. The thought was that one’s pain was one’s own and nobody else had it like you did – you were so emotionally raw, so in tune with the harsh realities of life (This was also back when you – if you played your cards right – had the added bonus of not being required to produce anything on a regular basis because you had a Patron who supported you and your work) that your “Exquisite Agony” had only one outlet.

The idea caught on. In places, it became a kind of contest to see who was in more anguish (Mental, because nobody wanted to physically hurt – that would have been inconvenient).

We did it to ourselves, and the idea lives on to this day. The picture of the Starving Artist (sound familiar), the artist struggling under the burden of addiction, or mental health issues, using them as fuel for their creative drive.

It’s Bullshit. All of it. And every time I see a “Reputable” publisher, content site, producer of “Stuff” try and get away with “Paying” their contributors with “Exposure,” it makes me want to reach into my monitor and tear the article, offer, posting, to shreds if I could.

There is no playing through the pain.

Take care of yourself. Demand that your health (be it physical or mental) be a primary concern. Demand fair and proper compensation for your work.

You are the only one that can produce what you produce. They, at least, had that part right back then. If follows that without “You” there is no “Your” art.

So if you’re suffering AND feeling down on yourself for not producing, I urge you to reach out to folks in your artistic community. The people in the trenches with you will tell you it’s ok to take care of yourself. To do whatever you need to do to be ok again, so you can get back to work.

And if anyone tells you that you should just “Push through it” or that you’re not a “Real” artist because you aren’t working through the suffering: Actively ignore that advice – you can bet that the people spouting that crap certainly aren’t following it themselves.

Be safe out there. Be Excellent to Each other.

I’ll see you on Thursday.


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