The lot of the artist is a cruel one. Whilst most people you and I know scurry about their self-important lives, the artist toils and suffers for their sake, standing as a vanguard against the outside world. He draws the bittersweet twinge in your heart-strings through your gaps in comprehension. He tastes poisonous abstractions and feeds you absolutes; tempered by pain and experience. He doesn’t just experience, he understands.
If he didn’t, he’d have plenty of free time to study the organizational theories of refrigerators and dishwashers. Perhaps he would discover a mathematical solution to the most efficient placement of food and dishes, so we can store more food for more dishes. It would be a study in supply and demand economics, home schooled. He’d have more time to conquer relativistic problems on the freeway. These wouldn’t just be qualitative observations while better cars leave his second hand junker in the dust, but actual calculations of vector velocities and bank dynamics. He could study the emotional cost of clasping and unclasping his watch band, or peer across the city from his tenement to ponder church spires and pagan symbols on top of temples, standing serenely in the midst of a Godless tempest.
It’s not the kind of life you can devote your mind to without freeing it. An artist must learn and think about everything so he can understand and portray the human condition. The life of the artist leaves him gasping, focused on the ideas and the concepts that he needs to expel from his mind before they pocket his sanity. He could type these words madly, imitating the speed of thought, or he could just kill himself before his mind melts. Razors hurt, rivers are far too wet, gas smells awful, nooses give and guns misfire. In that context, artists would rather write, paint or sing. They never chose to draw a single unique stroke, or to write with a semblance of understanding, or to cry for injustice; the choice for these extra sensitive people is really either pain or even more pain. Most people balk when they face that. Artists might stutter and stumble, but they are not afraid. They jump into it with the courage of boys at a childhood pond.
I love the sound of atonal percussion when these ideas begin to flow through my fingers onto the keyboard. It makes me feel good inside when the letters just slide into place, making words, which in turn make sentences and reveal thought. This is why, despite being first into battle, despite only wielding a pen against the hosts of luck, fate and the universe at large, I don’t begrudge the masses their peace of mind. I can’t opt out; it is my sovereign duty as an artist to be that shield wall. It isn’t against my will, and neither is it a fate of my choosing. In Latin they call it, “cacoethes scribendi.” The insatiable urge to write. This is what I was given, and I must use the talent for being able to take what is wordless and clarify it – or risk wasting it, which is the greatest sin that can be committed by any human being.
Such a simple word, clarity. It doesn’t belie brevity, articulacy or poignancy. Perhaps it implies a fluency with the language, and comfort with something that isn’t as easy to grasp as simple grammatical rules: the intangible. Normal people spend their whole lives searching for one lucid moment when they truly understand themselves. They’re the lucky ones. Albert Camus once said, “La vie est tragique seulement quand elle devient consciente.” Life is tragic only when it becomes conscious. Misery begins when we start to understand the fevers that wrack our bodies and minds. There is no art without pain, for it is the widest gate of all muses. Happiness doesn’t quite do the trick. All art must be conscious. If all art is conscious, all art is tragic.
The less you have suffered, the less happy you feel relatively and the less you appreciate those fleeting moments that make life worth it. An artist appreciates those moments, and welcomes them with both arms and a groin. He seeks pain and wallows in that hurt much longer than the need dictates. He enjoys its familiarity and revels in it. He leaves no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored. His kind is the reason Humanity progresses, for without the irrational and the creative, the clock stops and the world resigns and constrains itself to what has been invented already. Without the artist, Man acquiesces to the sunken, obsolete cesspool of a Humanity that will never, ever have the capacity to better itself.
That future would be a lot more tragic than a conscious one. It is a good thing that a few gifted (ha! The irony) individuals bear the brunt of creation’s shortcomings, and of its glories. This flood is dammed within the lucky masses and unfortunately, they will never understand the surge of power an artist feels from releasing it. They will never understand the satisfaction of true consciousness, or the bliss in immortalizing it. They will never understand why great writers are always ridiculed for having disordered livers and puffy eyes. Why they are mentally imbalanced more often than not. Why artists always look like they have let themselves go. Why they sport several days of stubble, why you can physically cut the smell of rotten sweat from their skin. Why their boxers cake dry, why they recycle their clothes the twentieth time over, socks dry and hard, feet stinking, leaving an aura of filth following dark, sunken sockets and rolling, yellow eyed cynicism.
Artists live lives that are races against disaster, but they are full and rich. That is sufficient recompense for a lifetime of service. It is only the artist that understands that art is so much like electricity. Just like current flows because of an imbalance in the polarization of a battery – from positive to negative – inspiration also flows from an imbalance. It is like a jug always full, pouring its contents into an empty cup. Both jug and cup are set down when the cup is full. The world drinks and is happy, but the jug is always full and the artist drowns. Like the forgetful creatures they are, the masses only remember the drowning without understanding that without the jug, they would also die of thirst. But then, when all is said and done, we all die. Some of us die seeing only the surface of life, the flesh and blood that the masses think is life. The artist dies because he is cracked and splintered from the spine of life, so much harder under the skin.