No ideal state
A short essay about doubt. Read @ Playgrounds Festival, Amsterdam, April 2018.
The difficulties in pursuing art will cause the vast majority of people to never attempt it, or to quit it to pursue a more stable profession. It's an unavoidably dangerous path, however, if someone wants to pursue it there must be no stopping them.
There are many misunderstandings about the conditions necessary to be an artist, any of which can cause someone to doubt themselves and give up.
You may feel that you don't come from the right place, that perhaps if you had been born in a big city in some other country it might make sense. There is no ideal place for an artist to come from. Societies generate them from the most unexpected places, and do so again and again. Every culture needs to represent itself through art, and imprints itself into its artists as they imprint themselves into their work.
There is no ideal time in which to make art, during war or peace, political stability or upheaval, dark or enlightened ages. Every era needs to reflect itself through art, and continually rewrites it's past, present and potential future. Governments may encourage the arts more or less, but they will never disappear. As long as change occurs it will need to be described.
If you begin with very little support, your basic survival may seem impossible to you. You may wish you had more money, resources or encouragement from your friends and family. Every step you take may be resisted by everyone around you. You may feel that if only you knew a certain person, had access to a wider audience or more success, that you would be a better artist. But is not what you have that makes you what you are.
Every difficulty you overcome serves only to make you a better artist, each will build your strength, work ethic, resolve and commitment more than any luxury ever could. There is no struggle, however extreme, which cannot become grounds for inspiration and beneficial in the long term. Your experience will resonate with many others, and any success you achieve will feel earned.
Knowing this, it's a mistake to assume that every artist must suffer necessarily, or be prideful about their suffering. There is nothing unique or special about our struggle, it's quite obvious that every living thing is shaped and strengthened by overcoming difficulty and resisting death. The caricature of the tortured artist exists only partly because it’s true, but also to shame us from thinking our suffering is unique.
If an artist starts out with great abundance, they will have to contend with a different set of problems. By being surrounded by comfort, their image of reality may not relate to many others. In the absence of challenge they will become weak and unmotivated, and any success will never feel earned. They may never be able to separate praise for their work from people's desire to get something from them. Any excess of time, money, beauty, luxury, success or fame brings with it obstacles to working productively, but which nevertheless feed into our experience of being alive.
There is no mental or emotional state which is more or less conducive to the creation of art, and there is no ideal state for the artist to live in. You do not need to be at peace with society or dissatisfied with it. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, an optimist or pessimist, whether your life is thrilling, boring, inspiring or miserably depressing, every possible extreme will produce different problems, ideas and necessary works of art.
Once you set out, there's no ideal path for your career to take. Whenever an artist's life is narrativized only the successes are emphasized, distorting the reality that every significant work of art was accompanied by an enormous potential for failure. It's very common for artists to spend years unable to create, much less to find success, and very often it never happens at all.
There will always be upswings and downswings, brief triumphs followed by vast stretches of emptiness. It will always and necessarily be difficult for you to survive and have your work recognized. No matter how experienced, every artist has to contend with endless doubts about themselves, their ability and their work.
You are never in an ideal state, and always in the best place you could possibly be in order to make art.