Here’s what it feels like to be an artist, at least for me. It feels largely self-indulgent, in a world where so many friends and peers have professions of far more readily visible social use. As a result, any setbacks I suffer are largely and necessarily borne in silence. For example, I am no surgeon; the only things that live or die by my hands are merely my poems, my stories and my dreams. What a strange life, or career, this is; at times it feels barely possible, like an aberration. As an artist, I find that the best and worst moments are furiously private. There’s that early-morning euphoria at your desk when, halfway into your first black coffee of the day, three lines of dialogue seem to sing from the page. But then there’s that moment when you step away from a piece of work that you have been crafting with the greatest possible care and intensity, and a thousand flaws immediately appear in it. This is the most unusual thing about being an artist: that at the very same time that it appears to matter more than anything, it doesn’t matter at all.
There’s a quiet and heavy guilt in being such a daydreamer. Whilst most of the world leaves home for the workplace, appropriately attired and sensible, you’re still in your pyjamas playing make-believe. While most of your mates are patiently putting in place the bricks of a solid, secure existence, you’re plucking poems and prose from the ether. As an artist, you essentially pick imaginary fruit for a living.
It’s a strange life, it really is. What often makes it worthwhile, in the end – and always in the end, because the process is one that you mostly need to endure alone – are those times that you might create something that resonates, that makes someone sit forward and say “yes, yes! That is life, just as I recognise it”. Of course, those moments are rare; much of the time, making the work is its own reward, much as a climber reaches the peak of a remote mountain and finds no-one there to applaud them. Most art is like that; making work whose beauty only you can see, looking down from a summit whose significance only you understand. Hopefully, the view from there is majestic; and your eyes feast on it for a while, before your descent and preparation for yet another harder, hopefully more rewarding climb.
UPDATE: I received a response from the writer Rob Blanchette (whose Twitter handle you can find at this hyperlink) which I thought was so beautifully put that, with his permission, I have included it below:
“I have often contemplated all this in the past. For years now I’ve been told to get a proper job, even though I did a proper job for many years, with my own desk and comfy chair, and lovely and not so lovely staff, skipping to the tune I played. The truth is after art, there is little else. There is just exercise and money and excess. Art is pure. It is the definition of love. Your poetry and art serves you to live a lifestyle others want, but can’t obtain. You could be working in law every day, and you’d be looking in this direction, wondering what it’s really like. Art and writing is often lonely. But our work survives the test of time, and will serve people for generations if sufficiently celebrated. Being an artist might not cause the sweat of a factory job, or days filling shelves in retail, but it has its own unique and beautiful challenges. We’re not here too long. Let’s enjoy what we have and what we can create with our hands and thoughts. Much love x”