This phenomenon is usually made worse every New Year's Eve - and not caused by heavy (or often any) drinking. I can usually be found with the TV running through the entire broadcast of Sy-Fy marathon of The Twilight Zone. Right now, I am watching the fan favorite of Nightmare at 20,000 feet, staring a very young William Shatner. Great for me, but what the heck does this have to do with art? Well, a lot or nothing. Like art, it's subjective and perspective-dependent. Having the same annoying stream of consciousness that made reading "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis so annoying, my thoughts run like this:
Mental illness - in 1963, when this episode was made - as well as it still is now - was a source of shame for a sufferer and his family and little understood, with barbaric treatments still in practice. This episode centers on a man who had a "nervous breakdown" and was put in a "sanitarium" 6 months earlier. He is now going home with his wife on a plane - very similar circumstances to his original break down. The way he thinks he is being treated -- patronized, others waiting for him to fail again, not being believed -- is how most people who have ever suffered from any kind of emotional/mental condition. Shatner's character keeps seeing some creature out on the plane's wing, tearing it up, which could cause them all to crash. But no one else sees it, so no one else believes him. That's the same with art a lot of the time. What makes an artist paint a blue dog, a red child, or a purple unicorn? His vision -- an inner vision that no one else can see. If an artist tells someone, "I'm going to paint a picture of my yellow lab -- but I'm going to do it all in blue tones" - he might get looked at weird, laughed at, or told it won't work. So most artists just 'do,' but then spend the rest of the time trying to explain to others exactly what the "motivation" was or the "hidden meaning" of it is. It's rather the same thing -- seeing something that isn't there - or that others can't see.
The episode's climactic moment has Shatner stealing a gun from the on-board law officer & being sucked partially out the emergency window he opens as he struggles to shoot the menacing creature off the wing to save the plane. Serling's punch line comes as Shatner is being strapped to a gurney in a straight jacket, with the pilot commenting on it being the strangest way to commit suicide he's ever heard of. His wife tells Shatner that it's all okay now, to which he sits up and says to us, "I know, but I'm the only one who does.......right now." And of course, we can see the very real damage on the wing. Art can be like that too. Some people view a work of art like they are appraising it, instead of seeking the value of it's truth: Art for art's sake.
Imagine the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance, my personal favorite, Leonardo di Vinci, comes to mind. It is easy for us to excuse any church laws he broke then, or social norms he refused to conform to, or any number of other faux paz he may have committed in order to produce the amazing artwork that he left us with. But at the time, something a basic as his wanting to study and understand the functions of the human body was a sacrilege that forced many a determined artists to utilize what we would call grave-robbing "black market" trades in order to make the advances in medicine we take for granted. He had a great deal of talent artistically, but what he should be better known for is his enormous insight, foresight, and probably what we would still call a certain amount of either mental or emotional conditions. (This is where the arguments for whether homosexuality is a choice, a dysfunction, or normal in some people and whether or not he was one.) Regardless, he is not different, artistically speaking, than any of the famous artists we now worship, in that they could see what the rest of may or may not see, but they had a gift for being able to use their inner sight and talent to leave it to us in a way in which we consider it poignant, progressive, or in some meaningful way, impressive. We sell/buy their works for enormous sums, while so many of them died paupers, or struggling throughout their lives. And why did they do it? Why not just move into another trade and eek out a normal existence? Why do artists still insist on making art? Why not just get a degree, a job, make as much as you can?
Well, that answer has a lot to do with the mental/emotional state of the artist. If any other artists are like me, you will have already riddled all this blog entry out long ago, and are screaming, "If I don't create, I go insane!!!!" Precisely. If I don't create on a regular basis, a certain amount of anger tends to come out sideways. Depression is never so depressing as when one cannot create what is unseen to others, but pulsating and living inside my inner sight. I have spent many years paying so-called professionals (usually as non-creative as they come) to tell me what to do about my depression. But as I have gained enough years to have valuable hindsight and insight, I realize that the worst times have been whenever and always when I have not been creating. In a way, creating is therapy. It is cathartic. It relieves the angst of living in this world where artistic is the least valued attribute of hiring managers. Creating is to the artist, what a whistling valve is to a steam kettle. And art has a direct connection to mental/emotional health/illness.
And so, as I stand on the precipice of yet another new year, I am looking back over the past year with 20/20 hindsight. But unlike other years, instead of being consumed with guilt, regret, or flat out dread, I am instead focused only on the small amount of success it took to fill my satisfaction cup - a tiny taste, really. But that taste was enough to wet the appetite of doing more, being more, creating more! I am obsessed with dedicating 2013 to killing whatever it is that has held me back all this time and to cutting loose and "doing!" I want to pull out the things that are inside me and are screaming to get out - to be seen by others! These unseen things are full in some part of me that is connected to my emotional health -- the longer they go unseen by the world -- the more toxic they become to my emotional health. But I've been saving them - for what - I don't always know - the right time, the right medium, the ability to do it "perfectly." Yet, after a visit with my brilliant, talented, and beautiful 9 yr old niece for Christmas, and watching the unabashed freedom she unknowingly used her creative skills for, I realized it was often fear of some kind that was keeping me from being the same way with my art.
So whether it's the fear of being laughed at, misunderstood, or unsold, I am going to work hard, every day, to beat that invisible monster down and bravely go forward - no matter what the risks are - in order to kill that monster that no one else can see! I have to save the plane I am on - and not just metaphorically speaking. There is another level to all my predicating this year, that other new years have not held - a cause for hope, a cause for determined revision of self, and a cause for that need to leave a legacy of self behind. A baby! Our first grandbaby (boy) is due in mid-May 2013!!!!! And this miracle is pulling the best from me on so many unseen and unexpected levels and he isn't even a tangible reality just yet. So if my family is tied to me by my emotional health, (and I sure you they are!) then I MUST pull the cover off that emergency window and do what it takes to save my family from crashing! We've had some miserable years, and some devastating times, but 2012 has given me a tiny taste of what artistic validation feels like -- of what it COULD BE like - on a bigger level - a more "permanent" level if you will.
I take the challenge and also ask other like-minded artists to do the same -- to DO our art in 2013. Let's all be like the 9 yr old self we used to be and put pen to paper, brush to canvas, tool to clay and CREATE - UNAFRAID!