Once Upon A Time In Egypt?
Desert Siren -- Part 1
The Art of Sidney Sime
Guilt and the Artist
Making Green Art & Staying Healthy
EMG news for June 2008
Guilt and the ArtistWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
One of these days, I will learn to do this column sooner than the night before it’s due.
Really. I mean, it’s not like I don’t feel guilty about it.
Actually, I feel a lot of creative guilt. I have a theory that guilt is the prime motivator for art, based on A) personal observation, and B) the vast number of former Catholic artists I know.
My mother and stepfather are both ex-Catholics (or “recovering Catholics” as they like to be known) and both artists. Their theory is that Catholicism is a double-whammy, because you get all that cool visual stimulus -- the stained glass, the Latin mass, the cool robes, the general pageantry -- and then you also get the massive load of guilt, which primes the artistic pump, so to speak.
This is not to say that artists need to be depressed. I smite this idea and do bad things to its children. We’re way too in love with the idea of artistic suffering, thanks to people like Van Gogh, and the notion that Ze Arteest must be wallowing in a mire of black aesthetic misery in order to create greatness is a load of tripe. When I’m depressed, I don’t paint. I curl up on the couch and play video games and eat ice cream. Painting is not even possible. I will start fifty paintings and discard them all for lack of motivation within an hour. It’s better not to start.
Guilt, however, is not the same as despair. Art guilt for me is that sensation I get about three days on that goes “yooooou haven’t done a painting in awhile, why not, the art needs to get done, why aren’t you paaaaainting?” Three days, for whatever reason, seems to be the critical juncture. Doesn’t matter how complex the painting is. I can do a massive detailed painting, collapse at the easel, and after somebody comes along and pries the paintbrush from my spasmed fingers and cleans me up and puts me to bed, I wake up three days later and go “Damn, I haven’t done a painting in awhile, have I?”
Your guilt schedule will vary, of course. Writers get it too. Being both these days, I find that I get both, and they’re NOT interchangeable, more’s the pity. If I’ve been writing up a storm, I start to get art guilt. When I do the mad pre-convention art splurge, I get writing guilt. This is a most unfortunate state of affairs.
My theory about why we get guilt is that it’s related to the reason we became artists in the first place. A lot of us -- most of us, maybe -- make art, not because we WANT to, necessarily, or because we LIKE it, but because the art has to get made. (I have had people ask me if I like making art, and I tend to stare at them blankly, because what does that have to do with anything?) And I don’t mean because it’s my job, because that’s not it at all. It’s that… creativity is a biological function for a lot of us. Pour life in and we excrete art. It’s just how it goes.
Spend long enough not making art, and this kind of itch starts up under the sternum and inside the finger joints, going “Where’s the art? Why haven’t you made art?” “Guilt” is the best word I’ve got for it, but maybe it’s more like creative constipation (and isn’t THAT a lovely image?)
The other sort of art guilt -- and it’s definitely related, I think -- is the oh-god-am-I-a-hack kind of art guilt. Now, my art tends to be small and cute and rely on punchlines. I do big complicated paintings, and the prints sell fine, but the bread-and-butter is really the cute wacky stuff. But every few months, I get this sort of guilty itch, and it says “yoooooou haven’t done a big complicated painting for months, you are laaaaazy, you are a haaaaack, maybe you can’t even dooooo those any more, when was the last time you slaved over a hot background for twelve hours, anyway?” and then I scream a bit and tear my hair out because I know that despite what my schedule may have been like, I will now have to take the next few days and do a big complicated painting or else… or else…
You know, I’m not really sure what happens on the “or else.” I never seem to call the guilt’s bluff. I suspect that the guilt simply builds and builds until you are crushed underneath and must drag yourself back to the easel, but I’m not entirely sure. For all I know, you start having art blackouts, and you come to, standing in the middle of a studio, covered in alizarin crimson and raw umber, wearing only your socks, with no idea how you got there.
It could happen. Best to just keep painting.
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