Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Moody Artists

As much as I hate to admit it, the old adage is true. Artists are moody. 
We're up. 
We're down.
One minute we're geniuses, the next we suck. We just know we suck.
Because we didn't win that thing. (Whatever it is.)
Or get the approval of that person.
Because we’re not Sherman Alexie or Leonard Bernstein or Banksy.
Damn, if we’d only thought of being Banksy before Banksy...

As much as I try to be thankful all the time,
to be grateful for all the good in my life—and there is so much goodness, folks—I slip and start evaluating my life’s work, and nothing is more damning than that Critical Eye.

I think I understand how easily artists slip into depression. I’m not depressed—far from it—but I do spend a hell of a lot of time in front of the computer, crafting words and worlds in my head.
I think, hey, this is important stuff.
Or hey, this is funny stuff.
Or hey, this is pretty original.
And the really sad thing about art is that if it’s not shared and appreciated fairly consistently, you begin to wonder if you’re wasting your life on words/music/painting/fillintheblank.

I know: aren't artists supposed to write and compose and paint for the sake of art? They don’t really need an audience because Art is a personal and higher calling!
Yeah yeah yeah. Bullocks.
A painter can only support herself as an artist if there are buyers.
A writer can only support herself as an artist if there are readers... who are buyers.
A composer can only support himself as an get the picture.

I am fortunate. I’ve gotten the attention of a traditional press. I’ve won awards—international awards—for writing. I love the quietness and solitude of writing.

But in spite of my happiness, in spite of being surrounded by love and support, I doubt myself. And it’s a damning doubt.

I was lingering in that state of doubt yesterday—and folks, this is the crazy part: I recently found out my new manuscript chapter won this, so I had no excuse for self-flagellation. And then I opened an email by a composer in London, Helgi Ingvarsson, with whom I’ve been collaborating. I wrote the libretto for Évariste, an opera about an 18th c mathematician, and Helgi is composing the score. We began doing some back-and-forth brainstorming about the piece, and quite suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t sad or doubtful or critical. I was exhilarated.

photo by Helgi Ingvarsson
There’s something regenerative about collaboration in the creative process. Learning from other artists, feeding each other inspiration. You have to trust each other completely—trust in their talent, their independence, their respect for art—and that doesn’t happen among all artists. But when it does, man! An injection of Inspirado right in the heart.


  1. Great blog! And I could not agree more. I do this to myself constantly.

  2. I resemble this post! Ok, haven't won any awards yet, but do have plenty of angst-laden moments. Congrats on your award, can't wait to read the MS!

    1. I like that word "yet." Thanks, Melissa! You are always so supportive. Hugs!

  3. Doubt accompanies everything worth pursuing. The challenge is perhaps overcoming that 'voice'.