Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Why I hate the myth of the suffering artist

AL Kennedy on writing

It is absurd and insulting to assume artists are assisted by despair or hunger in a way that, say, plumbers are not

Van Gogh's Self-Portrait With Cut Ear
Let's hear it for mutilation? ... Self-Portrait With Cut Ear, by Vincent Van Gogh. Photograph: Roger-Viollet/Rex Features

Suffering. Now there's an artistic word. Or so you'd think.
Let me first break off to apologise again for irregular filing. The long gap in communications has been caused by excessive travel and my catching up with the work I didn't do last year, because I was ill. Time was, I would have battered through my days of travel and typing and then filled my nights with more typing. But now I can't. I have the stamina of a Thermidored lobster, and this limits how much I can do in any 24-hour period, on pain of – well, pain. A harpooning headache will cheerily let me know when I have to down tools.
Which is to say, I have been doing my best to avoid suffering.
I have been trying to write for at least a quarter of a century, and I can say very firmly that in my experience, suffering is largely of no bloody use to anyone, and definitely not a prerequisite for creation. If an artist has managed to take something appalling and make it into art, that's because the artist is an artist, not because something appalling is naturally art.
Just try kicking your bare foot really hard against the nearest wall. In your own time – I can wait … And now tell me how creative you feel. Just bloody sore and mind-fillingly distracting, isn't it?
I mention this because I was recently in the company of a film producer. (I know, that doesn't bode well for the avoidance of suffering.) We had no professional relationship at all, so he was simply chatting about life and art in the way that I find people genuinely involved with either never do. And as I quietly clenched my teeth more and more tightly against the rim of my coffee cup, the producer told me all about how necessary it was that creative people of every type should have as awful a time as possible.
You would have been proud of me – I didn't punch him even once. Because it is wrong to punch people. It makes them suffer and suffering isn't nice.
To his way of thinking, comfort and success are poison, the Stones never did anything good after they'd got money, Van Gogh prospered because of mental distress, obscurity and ear mutilation and, actually .....…
Read the full piece at The Guardian.

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