On Art and Pain

This weekend I read two things. Well, more than two things but these two things got into my head and stuck. The percolating kind of stuck. The “how does this apply to my life?” kind of stuck. The two things were Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson and an article entitled Is Parenthood the Enemy of Creative Work?

Furiously Happy is not for the faint of heart. I’m not sure people who haven’t danced in the fire of depression or been singed at it’s edges will get it-but I still think it’s worth a read. I’m only partway through (Kerry and I are trading off) but I find myself nodding my head in sage agreement (or laughing, because she’s really funny) and recalling my own worst depressive moments.

I wouldn’t say I had severe depression; I usually qualify it with it was only an eating disorder and it was only PPD, and I never felt like hurting my child! But as I was thinking those thoughts I was reminded of a moment soon after the birth of my eldest. I had recovered (rather miraculously) from eight years of an eating disorder and thought I was in the clear and then BAM. I had an infant with colic and wanted to die. Not in the suicide kind of way-I had decided during my ED days I wasn’t going to do that-but in the “can I just fade away” kind of way. It wasn’t until later that I learned my depression wasn’t anything I did, but rather a somewhat common malady that doesn’t get the attention it deserves (if you have PPD or think you might have a touch of it please please please get help-no shame in that-it’s not your fault). I fared much better with subsequent children, because I knew what it was and that depression lies, but it was always there.

So while I qualify it and try to shrug off my experiences the fact is I’ve spent 16 years-half my life as of this writing-struggling with some form of depression. Or pain. Whatever. Enter the other article.

Parenthood is rough. It’s the roughest thing I’ve had to do with no end in sight. I know some people who seem to be in constant rapture that they are parents and love doing all the things with their kids-that simply hasn’t been my experience. I struggle to be present, to give my kids the love they deserve and that I truly want to give but have difficulties conveying. I even schedule “hug time”, because some of my kids operate best if their “physical touch” tank is overflowing (I’m referencing The Five Love Languages there). I know there are many parents who are in total sympathy: we always feel like we’re not enough, not doing it well enough, and that is painful, because we adore our kids.

Cue art. Art is a demanding muse, whether you’re a writer, painter, manga enthusiast, etc. You get an idea or picture in your head and it has to get out-nevermind the other duties that we might have. The article’s author ponders over whether or not parenthood and the creative drive can coexist. I actually think it’s a wonderful breeding ground: it’s a constant cycle of angst, pain, creation, and so on. I’ll go further and say that the best art is created in pain: whether that pain is from the constant grind of parenthood, depression, tragedy-we fight to see through that pain, and the breaking through hones the result so that it shines incredibly brightly. I know my art only exists because of my experiences; when I was younger I had the creative impulse, but it lacked something, so I gave it up for a time. Now I feel as though I have an overabundance of experience and depth to draw from.

That is not to say only people who have experienced pain can create art. Anyone can create art, just like anyone can cook (Ratatouille!). But the art that is drawn from the depths of despair just has this amazing quality about it; it’s more than two-dimensional, it makes you feel all the feels. I’m reminded of a Warehouse 13 episode wherein a jazz player intentionally used an artifact that transferred other people’s pain to himself so that he would have that depth to draw from-it adds an extra layer of luster.

I feel as thought I should wrap up this thought train of mine with a witty ending paragraph, but I don’t have one in me. I’m still reflecting upon the role of pain in the creation of art, going back over my growth and evolution, noting how I have improved because of it. I look at other artists/writers/creators and read their stories and can see how their experiences have facilitated growth. I acknowledge that the pain I have gone through was crucial to my artistic expression: and there it ends. I am still there, pondering, wondering how future experiences will further mold and shape me. Because it will-we should never be stationary, but rather moving forward and incorporating all of the new things we have experienced with what we already are.

So Art On, my friends. Art On in the cracks and edges of your life, and don’t despair when circumstances or brain chemistry interferes. I think you will create better art because of your experiences.

2 thoughts on “On Art and Pain

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