Thursday, November 17, 2011

tortured artist

The tortured artist is a stereotype we are all familiar with and one I've contemplated at great length. While I've certainly seen the proof that happy artists can produce copious amounts of brilliant work, that artistic genius can be derived from joy rather than pain, I still debate whether or not I personally can create without accessing my tortured artist within. 

Interestingly, I've been thinking about this a lot since I've been pregnant, because this transition has caused me to look back on my life in great detail. As I've mentioned, it seems that I am combing my history in order to glean from it the pieces of myself I would like to hold onto as I journey through motherhood…the pieces I know I need in order to keep my identity (somewhat) intact. In looking back, I've realized that my chosen art forms have depended on whether I was going through a tortured phase or a joyful one, and I'm having trouble accepting that I can only seem to access the art form that corresponds to my current phase. 

Throughout the greatest portion of my life thus far, I have been in a definite tortured phase, which propelled me into poetry, non-fiction writing, and music. My pain was palpable and impossible to ignore on a daily basis…..and I couldn't be without my notebook. I would write poetry in bed, in the corner of a bar while out with friends, on the back of receipts while driving, on napkins while grabbing a cup of coffee…anywhere and everywhere, almost daily. I would write non-fiction pieces at night while locked in my room, listening to moody music, by the light of candles. And then there was song-writing. I have been writing lyrics all my life, but then one day I decided to learn how to play guitar and I unleashed my tortured emotions in a way that was so cleansing and powerful (for me). 

It was in listening to some of my (self) recorded music a few weeks back that I was reminded of the tortured artist within me…..and I missed her. The fact that I wrote and recorded my music for myself, not because I think it's good (because I sort of cringe when I hear it), makes it so emotional and personal. It's been so long since I've listened to any of it, and when I heard it again I was blown away by the amount of emotion I heard in my voice. One song in particular, The Consequence of DNA, left me weeping on my couch. In a way I can hear how much I am holding back in this song, knowing that unleashing it all would lead to screaming and crying into the microphone, but at the same time I was reminded of how raw and powerful my art used to be.

The art I (mostly, but not entirely) create from joy is my photography and painting, and it's the type of art I've immersed myself in for the past 3 years. Through all the pain and joy, I have always been someone who dedicates herself to healing and finding genuine happiness and a peaceful way of life. But, throughout my (long-standing) tortured phase I was that person while simultaneously clinging to the dark part of my soul, not wanting to completely lose it, because it felt like such a huge part of my identity. As I wrote in one of my poems long ago, I enjoyed the duality of smiling with tears running down my cheeks. When I met my husband, we bonded over this shared trait. But, eventually, the joy I experienced with him and the new life I began to lead, enticed me away from long nights lost in tortured emotions, away from moody poetry and depressing music making. 

Now I find my inspiration in the angelic smiles of babies as I photograph them, in love, in moments of peace, and beautiful views. And I haven't thought of that tortured girl in years…..until now. Now I find myself questioning her exile, questioning the effectiveness of the art I create these days. I'd certainly like to be a "happy artist" for my child's sake, and wouldn't choose to return to my "tortured phase," but I also find myself mourning the part of me that could write poetry and music. Mostly, I find myself wondering: do I need to be tortured in order to be a great artist, or am I simply meant to use the art forms provided to me by the Universe at any given time? Perhaps it's all part of the plan—perhaps my path from painting to dancing to acting to photography to pottery to poetry to music making is leading me toward something bigger, and greater? 

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