Arts are a Labor of Love (And Insanity)

I would like to point out that I wrote out this whole post, both in my head and out loud, on my walk from the library to my apartment.  It sounded eloquent, witty and delightful.  Perfect word choices all-around.  But do you think I could recapture the whole thing when I arrived?  Hardly.  So here is a less-amazing version, although the sentiment holds true.

There’s no people like show people.

I think that’s a quote.  Or maybe part of a song.  Either way, it is also completely true, although in this case I am using “show people” to refer to artists as a group.  Writers, painters, musicians…  Anyone who creates things for the perusal of others.  There’s no one like us… Because we’re all crazy.

Not flat-out loony, at least not usually, but hear me out.  Historically speaking, many of the artists that the world has enjoyed most and embraced so eternally were nuts when they were alive.  Brilliant?  Undeniably.  Evocative?  Unarguably.  But crazy?  You bet.  They had a spark up there, something other people were lacking.  It was what made them unique, blazing stars in a dark sky.  But like shooting stars, they had an alarming tendency to self-destruct; they were desperate to either enhance or quiet the voices in their heads, and usually the drugs and alcohol they used to do it killed them at an early age.

Jackson Pollock. Died in a drunken car crash at the ripe age of 40-ish. Nobody can say this guy didn’t have interesting stuff going on up there.

Why would you do something like that?  Was it something about the craft that was making them insane, or was their natural insanity what made them look at the world from a 75 degree angle instead of 90?

So we’ve established that creative, artsy people are, almost by definition, at least a little wacked.  (Or just constantly helped by drugs.)  I thought about this earlier, as I engaged in a six-hour writing marathon and gave myself a well-deserved pat on the back.  (You can see the fruits of my labor in the word counter at the bottom of the page!)  I said to myself, “Dude, you just spent SIX HOURS writing eight THOUSAND words.  It sounds good in theory.  But thousands of words have come before, thousands will come after, and that’s just before the editing!…


And that was the crux of this seed of thought.  I am taking hours, days, years in the making, to write something that someone will, hopefully, sit on their couch and read in a sitting or two.

I have from good authority, aka a buddy of mine, that she has more than once taken hours just to tweak one sentence to perfection.  One sentence.  To anyone who isn’t an artist, that sounds so crazy!  I mean think about it!  What do normal people do in hours?  They hike!  They cook whole meals and eat them!  They play a sport, make money, shop for clothes, catch up with old friends.  In the larger scheme of what could happen to you in a couple hour’s time, the idea of working on one sentence, no matter how melodic or integral to the plot, is simply crazy talk.  Or painters who stare at a canvas for hours before making one stroke.  Or musicians who mull over their music before writing another note.

What is wrong with us?

I am guilty of that.  Buying a book I have waited an entire year for and gulping it down like water on a hot summer day, greedy mouthfuls at a time until in less than 24 hours there’s nothing left but a refreshed taste in my mouth and a yearning for more.  I visit art galleries and peruse the art, glancing at a painting for a few seconds, maybe a minute, before moving on to the next one.  Listen to a song through completion and then hitting ‘next’.  It seems that is the nature of art.  So much work put in, like days on a tricky paragraph, so that someone can skim by it faster than you could read it aloud.

I feel like this sometimes.

But there’s your answer.  There, I thought, was my answer.

We do it because it is OUR hours, days, years well spent.  Because it is that grain of sand caught in our oyster, becoming a pearl.  And we hope, we pray, and we perfect, with that same goal in mind–that we can create that pearl.  Some people will pass it by in the window and look, a few might even pick it up and touch it.  But someone, somewhere, is going to clutch that pearl and never let it go.  They’re going to wear it, idolize it, realize how precious it is.

All artists are hoping that our work will reach just that one person who can’t let our work go.  If we’re lucky it will be many persons!  They will read the stories were are compelled to write, stare at the art we were urged to paint, or obsess over the music we were born to create, going back time after time to think about it.  Finding meaning in it.  For better or worse, to loath it or to love it.

So, maybe we are a little crazy.  Maybe we do stress out, drink too much coffee, and tear at our hair over a chapter title, a color choice or that final note.  Maybe that will never make sense to the “normal” people, if there even is such an animal.  But that’s okay.  That’s how it is.  And I’m fine with that.

Because maybe my pearl will become a grain of sand for someone else.

Thanks for reading this super long post by yours truly,

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