Suffering For Your Art

There has been a long tradition in this country that true artists, whatever the medium, have to suffer. They have to come from terrible backgrounds, or be alcoholics, or drug abusers, or whatever. The idea being that beautiful art has to come from this level of pain.

I don’t believe it.

Every life has pain, yes, and whatever the worst thing is that you’ve experienced, it feels like the worst thing ever, until something worse happens. To make a little more sense of that, I know that my teenage daughters, who have never broken a bone or lost a child or had an unhappy love affair, feel a good-sized sense of loss when the internet goes down. This doesn’t mean their sense of proportion is way off; it’s just a matter of experience.

But the underlying assumption of the whole ‘you must suffer for your art’ meme is that greatness cannot come without pain. That art somehow arises only from the bad part of the human condition. I don’t agree with this. Some of the best work I’ve read has been so full of joy that the page lights up like a flower petal in the sun.

This is not to denigrate the achievements of those whose lives are a sewer of rage and pain, yet create beautiful music, writing or art. Indeed, the amazing, the wondrous thing, is that they could do that despite their condition.

I just don’t think it’s because of it.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. xiamcorl
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:08:12

    I’ve had a lot of pain in my life but i don’t nessarly write from that most of my writting comes from the good points in my life not the pains of being me.


  2. Pam
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:42:00

    Okay, so if you open a book in which nothing happens, you’d put it down, right? Pain happens. So does happiness. But most stories have pain in them. Writers get this from either current/past events or pull from experience in their own lives. Is there such a thing as a happy ending?

  3. asherose
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 15:31:05

    There is definitely pain in fiction. You’re absolutely right, there is no story without conflict. There’s no life without conflict, either. All I’m saying is that you don’t have to have extreme suffering to have artistic talent.

    I think there are happy endings in fiction. They come from knowing when to stop, in part. Eventually, we all die. Whether that’s a happy ending is a point I’m not prepared to argue here. 🙂

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