I love this Mythblast. It is so rich and layered. Here are some of my thoughts/responses. I am sure I could write more, because this article elicits so many thoughts and feelings in me.
Tellez begins, “It is easy to glamorize the gifts and benefits of artistic creativity, the unique sense of transcendence it brings to mind, a kind of panacea to cure all the ills of life” (para.1). This rings familiar. The creative act often comes to us as an urge, often as if urgent. For some artists, artistic expression can feel like the drive of the life impulse. When that impulse for some reason is not fulfilled and the artist cannot do his or her art (such as being in a writer’s block), it can feel like, “If only I could write what wants to come out, I would feel so much better.” Often I have found (in myself and others) that a writer’s block (or a musician’s block, or a painter’s block, or a dancer who feels in a slump and like he or she cannot dance at a given time) can put the artist in a state of dis-ease, a malaise. When the artist cannot do his or her art, all is not well in his/her world. However, this type of expressive relief that brings a sense of satisfaction or happiness with one’s life is not to be confused with people who want to make art just to achieve happiness in and of itself, as Tellez tells us at the end of this article; this is to be applied to the true artist, who is an artist because it is as if it is in his soul’s code—a term which is the title of a book by depth psychologist James Hillman. The true artist will stay true to his work even if it becomes somehow painful or sacrifices arise.
Here I will go back to the idea of the creative act: Tellez writes, “[…] there is magic in it, a grace we can’t control, which in one stroke seems to make us equal to God” (para. 1). To be creative is to be a creator–as God is regarded as a creator. Often a creative urge or idea seems to come from outside ourselves, as if from a god or a muse. When we receive a call to create as if inspired by the magic of the muse, I (and other artists I know) usually experience this type of inspiration as pleasant. There is an uplifting feel to it, and the lack of ease (writer’s block, e.g.) in one’s being is gone. Tellez writes that when we engage in our art we are “allowing our shadows to fly in the infinite light of the spirit” (para. 1).
Sometimes, when this type of inspiration strikes, these are the poems that seem to write themselves without any effort of one’s own or are the songs that “pop” into one’s head while driving down the road, while falling asleep, or in a dream. They are usually unexpected and surprising. In any case, they “flow” out from the pen or the paintbrush, or if a dancer, the movement flows out from spirit or a sense of soulfulness, the soul full of whatever the ness is. When “ness” does not flow, life can feel instead like a mess. Too it often happens that the initial idea for a work of art comes pleasantly like this and uplifts us, and later we encounter hurdles upon our path to its completion. This can be where part of the suffering comes in for the “suffering artist.”
Tellez continues, “Nevertheless, if you ever wanted to be an artist, you must be careful what you wish for. After all, gods are designed to be flayed and dismembered before they can be brought back to life — if they’re brought back at all” (para.1). Here I am reminded of Icarus wanting to fly within that “infinite light of the spirit” (para. 1) and then he gets so close to the sun that his wings melt and he falls back to earth. Here I am also reminded of the book Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture, by Michael Tucker, in which an artist is revealed as comparable to a shaman, bringing visions to the society in which he or she lives. In many old shaman traditions, it was known that the shaman had to go through a severe trial of dis-ease: many a would-be shaman succumbs to illness prior to being ceremonially initiated as shaman, and some have experienced pain of dismemberment or at least torn flesh (whether in the awake-world by animals or in a dream)—Sundancers of the Native American tradition self-inflict this type of sacrifice so as to be overwhelmed by Spirit. And throughout the centuries, people have heard many stories about suffering artists and the various ways in which they suffer, whether as a “starving artist;” a tortured artist (condemned to death for his/her vision when a society claims it sacrilegious, such as Salman Rushdie); or, a “crazy-mad artist” (an obsessed/possessed artist whose work or life drives him/her mad, who “feels too deeply,” such as Vincent van Gogh). Those who are truly an artist, just like those who are truly a shaman, just as Tellez tells us, are not in it, simply to be happy. Most artists I know say they write/paint/sculpt/dance/compose or perform music because they “have to.” Instead of choosing it, it has chosen them.
As for the difficult part of one’s art, I see an image I have seen some summers along Lake Erie where I live. There are many marinas and boat basins here, and sediment (sand from the lake and erosion from soil) gathers at the bottom and shallows the water making it more difficult for the boats to pass in and out of the basins. So they need to be dredged. And the dredges and the dredgers show up and you see these big metal claws plunging into the depths of the basin with all this sediment pulled up–and pulled out, to be tossed back into the lake or whatever other fate awaits it. This is the reminder that while sometimes an idea comes from outside of the artist, a lot of the process nonetheless has to come from within as one does the actual work and that sometimes it is a deep and difficult process. If it is not a quick poem that writes itself, then some of the continuing work that we have to do on a larger work (can you imagine writing a Finnegan’s Wake of your own or a War and Peace?) has to be dredged up from inside ourselves. The sediment we bring to the surface can be residue from yesterday or from a thousand yesterdays ago. It can be an ancient pain as much as an ancient joy or yesterday’s sorrow as well as yesterday’s joy.
Thank you, Dr. Tellez, for sharing this with us.