Object Dar't

September 30, 2011

Does a good artist have to be crazy?

It's with both sadness and relief that I say my latest painting is finished. I've been doing this long enough now that I recognize the pattern; that the creative process is very much like giving birth. First comes the idea or inspiration, then the gestational period which THANKFULLY is not 9 months long but the feeling is very much the same. During the initial design and sketching stage, I experience bouts of excitement, anticipation and soooo much "thinking" about what it will look like when it's done. I even catch myself fretting at times about whether I'll do this right and I most certainly feel swollen and expectant with this "thing" which will come from me.
Gestation: the sketching phase

Once painting begins, it's full blown labor. I don't know why but the process is joyful, consuming, a struggle and sometimes horrifically uncomfortable emotionally. And when this thing is done, I let out a huge sigh of relief because at last, it is behind me.

Which is when the roughest patch hits; postpartum depression! LOL Every single time that I have finished a painting, I have experienced a small postpartum let down. A feeling of "now what?" My mind and soul are exhausted and still with a bout of emptiness - which I don't enjoy! It's as if I emptied my cup and there it sits on the table just waiting to be filled again. In the early days, my solution for this was to go on the hunt. To fill my eyes and mind with as much stimulation as possible so that I connected enough things to form an inspiration. But I look back now and see that my paintings lacked meaning and content because they were forced. In the past few months, I've been working hard to just BE empty for a time. Because truthfully, the whole experience of being an artist and creating is consuming.

I recently saw Lust for Life, the movie of Vincent Van Gogh and I have to tell you that I really became worried. Creating art is an obsession and it leads the mind and heart into uncharted territory where there are no inherent checks and balances. The reality is that I could sit in my studio for 90 days straight without eating or drinking or seeing another human being. And many of the great artists, including Vincent Van Gogh, have brought themselves to the point of madness as a result of that consumption.

There are scads of sites out there dedicated to the Creative Madness complex. It has for centuries been the accepted notion that creativity and madness do in fact go hand-in-hand. "Deviant behavior, whether in the form of eccentricity or worse, is not only associated with persons of genius or high-level creativity, but it is frequently expected of them." (Rothenberg, 1990, p.149) I've worked hard in my life to overcome my A.D.H.D. and other weaknesses. So seeing the movie gave me great pause and served as a reminder that I should be vigilant about remaining healthy.
Thankfully, my life have been built in such a way that there are some checks and balances outside of myself - my children and friends who by default provide the "must do's" that take me away from the studio and force me to live - not just create. But most importantly, from my concern came the strategy of using that empty time to my benefit after a painting was finished. It is a natural void that provides me with down time away from being creative and I now use it to my benefit to emerge from creating. It's a time to come back to being centered and balanced again and it's a MUST DO. But it really poses a question to me: if I ignored those checks and balances, would I become a better artist? And if I make a commitment to staying mentally healthy, does this mean that I am holding back my artistic abilities? I wonder. But I won't wonder too long because truthfully, there's no way I'd sacrifice my life and happiness simply to be a great artist. Great artists seem to have sad, tortured stories and who wants to wind up as a made-for-TV movie? ;)