Artwork featured by Wicaksono Papay
I think we’ve all grown familiar with the concept of The Tortured Artist, the stock character image that’s defined as a stereotype who is in constant torment due to frustrations with art, other people, or the world in general.
Many examples of this stereotype may include well-known figures such as Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe, but if you are and or have been involved in the creative field, that term may resonate with you deeply as well.
Whether it be music, dancing, writing, or industrial design, you’ve probably become accustomed to the struggles of staying devoted to that passion you were so certain could only fuel you, not drain you. But unfortunately, the sad reality when it comes to artists, we all go through it.
The inevitable burnout of either being uninspired, worked to the bone, exploited, not recognized enough for one’s work, afraid of losing the recognition we get, afraid that if we aren’t careful, it’ll slip away. Because at the end of the day — recognition, feedback, and praise matter to us whether we care to admit it or not.
I once had a conversation with my sister that really stuck to me. Being the only ones in our family who pursued writing and understood the inner struggles of being someone who was guided by their creativity and constant desire to have an outlet for their ideas, we came to a conclusion as to why people like us — who were driven by our creativity when it came to our hobbies or careers —had a harder time staying committed in comparison to those who had more practical jobs. We understood that theirs didn’t require as much need for original and novel ideas to push them forward in their career paths.
That’s not to say those with more practical jobs don’t feel the same, it’s just that when it comes to people who are in creative fields, we’re more likely to experience this than the average person who leans towards more hands-on occupations.
Mainly because when it comes to people like us, our innovation is what either makes or breaks us in the industry that we work in. If we don’t show enough zest and or authenticity in our craft —that’ll prove how worthy and capable we are to bring fresh and new ideas to the table with every demand from either our bosses and or audience— it won’t be long before we fall off the ladder before we were even able to put our foot on the first step.
It’ll force us to question not only our skills but also our knowledge, and overall potential to do and be better. Constantly wondering to ourselves, “Why am not I as good as my peers? Why aren’t I as engaging? As talented and effortless with my craft as they are with theirs?”
Because as much we hate to face the truth, there will always be someone who lets productivity and creativity run smoothly to them than it does to us.
I’d like to blame it on the idea of growing up and not being able to view our passions the same way when we were introduced to them, but at this point, it’s become redundant.
Because if we’re being honest here, what we choose to let ourselves be poisoned with is by our own way of design and willingness to let that slither of corruption make its way down our throats until it eventually pervades through our system and breaks us apart.
Either emotionally or mentally, because if you think about it, not only through the perspective of an artist but as a human being as well, when you search hard enough there are people who aren’t driven by huge amounts of success or support but somehow still find it in themselves to persevere and move forward with their craft and or talent.
Not because they’re still encouraged by the idea of eventual success, but because deep down, they know if they abandon their love for it, what else are they gonna love?
It took me quite some time to realize that up until this point, but even now, I still find myself slipping every now and then from the hands of reassurance and certainty into the darkened depths of greed and envy.
One moment I’m so sure that the lack of recognition isn’t going to be the one thing that defines me and what I’m passionate about but instead— my complete and utter devotion towards my craft will.
I wonder, however, if that would be enough. As it has been projected upon me from a very young age that idealization and childlike wonder isn’t always going to suffice in the real world, and resenting these spiteful words disguised in the form of advice.
Thinking that—yes, it is enough. But then wondering, is it though? You despise the thought of pursuing a career that is mundane and serves no greater purpose nor correlation to what you know best which is your love for art and art only, and yet you’re too scared to let the desperate hands of exploitation suffocate your love for it. You want to remain true to yourself and true to what you want. But sometimes what we want is far from what we need.
Inevitably, I knew I needed to advance forward and mature. I’ve learned to come to terms with the fact that as much as I try to push it away, the craving for validation will always linger.
It’s never going to go away neither will the harsh reality of me needing to financially support myself by doing something that I’m good at, finding a way to exploit it for my own benefit, as much as I want to secure it from the ever-so-tightening grasp of capitalism. It’ll always find a way to keep up with you and the path that you take.
But it does make me think how I have to accommodate what’s real and concrete in order to indulge in personal endeavors. It’s needed, of course, but I despise it nonetheless.
How I have no choice but to capitalize out of something that was never intended to be measured by money or numbers, but rather something I just wanted to gain self-fulfillment from, knowing that yes, I mastered you. Crafted you and polished you to the best of my ability.
That’s not to say artists aren’t allowed to want that, money, or some form of compensation for their skills one way or another. It’s normal to want them because people can’t always live off passion alone. As sad as it is, the adults were right in their own way when they warned us.
It’s just occurred to me that the reason we struggle to stay devoted to our craft and gradually notice the once fresh coat of paint on our canvas begin to dry and develop cracks is that — we are somewhat measured by algorithms. Of all kinds really.
It’ll eventually get to our heads because we want it to or because it’s expected from us if we truly want to be known for our talent, considering algorithms is what makes an artist valuable.
Whether it be the number of sales an illustrator, painter and author get, or from how many sales a singer manages to accumulate on iTunes and how high they are in the charts— we’re all deemed relevant by how much engagement we achieve.
Either it’s said by our peers or our own audience, we are deemed relevant by how much money, views, and awards we can earn as well as how much we appeal to the public.
But it also made me reflect that as much as we are measured by these things, it is that we aren’t necessarily defined by them.
It’s hard to believe that because other people’s input says a lot about what we contribute to society, but if you really think about it, being human beings who love something should be enough to make us and what we love worth respecting.
It’s great to have someone say that they stayed up all night to consume your content or that someone was inspired by you or that you helped them with your art. It’s euphoric even.
But aside from that, numbers or tangible things shouldn’t be what defines us but instead, what we gain in order to better connect with ourselves and or others.
Because it’s all in the way we learn to grow.
And I guess my main takeaway here is that you shouldn’t give up. Because throughout all of it, what you do does matter to someone, and despite that, the fact that you get to achieve self-fulfillment from what you do should also matter because as much as we need people in order to be defined, we are human beings as well who have our own need for escapism and support. Whether it be from others, or from yourself.
What should really define an artist and their devotion towards their art, is not what others deem as essential, but what should fuel you internally and how you would use that to possibly help those around you as well.
Because that passion is a part of you, and if there’s one thing we need to do for ourselves and what we love, is to be kind. For you and what matters to you.
“Now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.