I’m probably going to ramble. I apologize in advance.
For a while in my twenties I hung around with a group of friends who were crazy. Most of them were artists or wanted to be artists. They lived together in a house and I lived on the outside looking in. We spent nights getting drunk and smoking and doing the things that twenty-somethings do. We read obscure books and not-so obscure books like Kerouac and Plath and Burroughs. We listened to old rock and obscure rock and punk rock and we ran around naked, beating our chests and making crazy, violent, amazing art.
Sometimes we’d sit around with wine or beer or whatever we had on hand, and speed write. We’d write whatever we could as fast as we could in the time it took to smoke one cigarette. Then we’d go around the room and read it.
I had insomnia so bad back then that I’d stay up all night making art. Painting and writing and drawing and singing. I had art crawling under my skin, dying, begging to burst through the seams and come out.
One of the girls broke old TV’s and turned them into landscapes from her brain. The backyard was a minefield of glass, the ashes of her dead television sets. She used doll parts and anything else she had on hand. Poverty is a great instigator for invention.
The guy who lived there mostly painted. He had this idea in his head that in order to BE an artist, he had to suffer. Happiness was an enemy. Only through pain could great art be created. He was good too. Great even. He was also frequently too stoned to do more than sit around watching Golden Girls repeats.
Over at this blog is this post about how to steal like an artist. You should go read it. It’s probably more coherent than I am. One of the things he says is that art isn’t simply about what you make but about what you leave behind. I’m mostly paraphrasing. It’s brilliant really.
I don’t drink much anymore. And I don’t really see those people. I still listen to punk and read Kerouac. Sometimes I go back and I look at the art that I created back during those times. The journals and the paintings. Sometimes I’m blown away. It’s crazy, violent, amazing art. It’s also incomplete and diseased.
These days I work an 8-5 job. I watch movies and TV. I hang out with good people and lead a stable, normal life. Twenty-something me would have see 33-year-old me and called me a fucking sell-out. Maybe he would have been right. I did just spend all of yesterday shopping for household items for my new place, for my life of domestic bliss. But then I could have shown my twenty-something self my art, the art I’m creating today. And it would have blown him away.
Art and the artist are linked. They’re one. But in order to become a real artist, I had to put up walls between my life and my art. There’s only one place in which those walls come down, and it’s when I’m sitting in my chair, letting all my crazy, all my violence, all my magical fucked up thoughts out onto the page.
I read this fantasy book recently called THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson. Good book. In it, there’s this stuff called Stormlight. And one character, an assassin, can breathe it in and perform feats of great magic. To hold the stormlight, he holds his breath. And even still, it bleeds out of his skin, leaks from his eyes. Art is like that. If you try to keep it in, it will tear you apart. You can’t hold your breath forever.
I believe I mentioned that I was going to ramble. The more I think about it, the more I consider myself lucky that I survived BEING an artist. These days, I just like being normal and letting the art be something I do when no one is around. I’d rather people not find out I’m crazy when they meet me. They’ve got my books for that.
Also, because I never had the courage to say it to my friend: suffering and pain don’t make you an artist, making great art does.