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Martyrs, Be Gone!

For me, inspiration is linked to positive emotion. Some artists need to be in the midst of turmoil in order to create— not me. Been there, done that, couldn’t write. I will never be the clichéd troubled writer feeding off their own misery. To write, I need some semblance of happiness, comfort in my surroundings, and stability.

But what about the stereotypical tortured artist? Yes, they exist. Some go as far as to seek out self-destructive behavior thinking they will gain ingenious talent and artistic notoriety from what, and how much, they endure. That works for some, but not for me.

In her inspiring novel Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes that “creativity got kidnapped by the martyrs, and it’s been held hostage in their camp of suffering ever since.” I agree. The martyrs, those who claim an artist must suffer for their creativity, will go so far as to claim that in order to produce credible art, one must come from a place of adversity.

All these “musts!” You must stop.

This world is full of individuals wanting to control how you do things, how you see things, and for artists, how you create things. You know who they are in your life— the ones who would rather rip you down than build you up. An artist must find their own way, their path to creativity, and if it doesn’t include martyrdom, that’s okay.

I don’t discredit those who believe there is a distinct link between suffering and creativity, great works have been forged from that combination—Hemingway, van Gogh, Munch, the list goes on. But to claim that creativity can only come through suffering? No, I do not buy what you’re selling.

Christopher Zara, author of Tortured Artists, claims “that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good.” Oh? What of Matisse? He lived a rather comfortable, contented life. He believed “An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success…” and stated “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.” Does that sound like a person in the depths of self-loathing?  What of Einstein? This quintessential creative genius once stated “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” He notoriously loved life, encouraged creative pursuits in his son — Were Einstein’s works of creativity lacking excellence because he was not tortured?

The only inspiration I ever get from suffering are ideas on how to eviscerate the cause of them or vent on some malfeasance, but it moves no further than an idea. At most, it is a solitary tool among a much wealthier repertoire of devices I might use. Those experiences don’t deserve the accolades that a devotion to them would suggest. I am more than the tribulations I have withstood.

When it comes to suffering, I shut down, I don’t blossom. I am not inspired to write, to elongate adverse experiences, to create a work soaked in negativity. I utilize it when I have a character who has been through turmoil, have an understanding on how to approach the matter. But would I make all of my art a testament to that misery? Say that I couldn’t create without it? Never.

Would I tell you that you have to approach creativity in my same manner? Absolutely not.

I will say that just because an artist knows the ropes pertaining to their personal battles doesn’t mean they have to hang themselves with them to prove artistic credibility. Suffering is a conduit, but not the only authentic one. As Matisse observed, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them,”  and I will not allow pessimists bent on martyrdom to tell me they aren’t there. While they struggle under their self-induced cloudy skies, I will write away amid fragrant inspiration.

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