Art featured by Jun Cen
I’ve previously written an article discussing what it means to stay passionate about your craft and why we tend to fall back into the hands of uncertainty and exasperation when we are not met with the idealized results and success we fantasized about through our hard work, etc.
That piece meant a lot to me because I also tackled the concept of the infamous stereotype also known as The Tortured Artist, and the internalized struggles people who deeply resonate with this archetype go through — the self-loathing, insecurities, doubts, and frustration over their own work and how the people around them perceive them as well as their passion.
If you have gone through the process of being tortured by your craft and have even reached the inevitable breaking point of feeling discouraged if this said passion was even supposed to be a passion, to begin with, you should know that it’s an ultimately life-draining experience.
For others, however, it’s a weirdly romanticized representation of what it means to be an artist.
This idea came into mind while I was watching R.C Waldun’s video titled How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Passion? Which I highly recommend watching, by the way.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I can understand the appeal, the aesthetics rather, of why some people are lured in by the surface level image of The Tortured Artist.
You’re probably cultivating a very specific, detailed scenario of a middle-aged man who’s had the wrinkles of old-age and experience etched upon the expanse of his skin, the same skin that’s being engulfed by the wool-fabric sweater that swallows him whole in order to beat the frosty bites of the winter that lingers in the gloomy air.
All the while as he somberly navigates his steps through his equally gray, looking cabin located in the middle of the country-side as he slowly but surely sinks himself down onto his wooden desk that’s positioned facing the window so he can marvelously gaze at the nature that surrounds him — the murky grass and the hazy clouds that shield away from the all-but bright sunlight that peeks through the fog that consumes him and his home.
As he solemnly traces his aching fingers over the typewriter placed right in front of him, inhaling and exhaling a tired breath as he stretches the bones of his palms, tired but never at rest, as he begins to jot down all his life’s experiences through abstract formats that spill into instantaneous words onto the paper that has become the canvas of his own life’s painting.
That’s what you’re thinking of when I pitch the idea of a Tortured Artist, right?
Realistically, however, a tortured artist may just end up being a twenty-year-old-something punk residing in a one-bedroom apartment in a very polluted city, hunched over a laptop as they hastily try to finish their manuscript before a publishing company finds another a writer who’s more productive than you are and do more for their company in terms of practicality and innovation, so you might as well not even try.
Or probably an aspiring dancer who’s being yelled at by their mentor in the studio because their moves are being viewed as overly stiff and calculated due to their underlying anxiety that the mentor isn’t noticing because they only continue to compare said dancer to their peers who apparently move more gracefully than they do.
Or a painter whose being criticized for their uneven brushstrokes as they internally beg their colleagues to see way beyond the colors and instead to see the big picture, but of course, the aesthetic appeal matters more to the public eye than said meaning of the work, so they just set aside the heartfelt meaning of their painting and instead take note of how they need to use more acrylics than oil paints because it’ll look more neat and tidy, or so they have been told.
That, is the overall reality artists who are actually being tortured by their craft, go through.
It’s not how the media chooses to portray Vincent Van Gogh and his experiences, depicting him as this agonized painter who used his pain to create magnificent bodies of work that eventually went up in museums, which to be fair, is how it all ended up.
But the media never went out of their way to detail the severe pain he went through as a painter that ultimately led to his demise, his declining mental health, the multiple rejections done by critics over his paintings, how some of his most notable works such as Irises and The Starry Night were all done in the premises of a psychiatric hospital that he admitted himself into during some of the lowest points of his life.
All that’s been said about Vincent Van Gogh however was that “Yeah, he was sad and in pain, but his sadness and hurt were what created the art that’s ogled at today, and that’s all that matters.”
No, that’s just romanticizing the idea of beating yourself down so, capitalism can consume parts of your creation to make money out of in exchange for mental and physical exhaustion on your behalf.
He never got to witness the success of his art but instead went through the emotional and mental turmoil of creating them and that isn’t something to be glamorized. Depression and declining mental health shouldn’t be disguised in the form of a sad, lonely creative mind.
That’s just one of the many topics I wanted to touch on for the main point of this article. A lot of the time people just desire the idea of being viewed as a tortured soul as someone who uses their pain to develop beauty within their surroundings, because it gives depth to their general disposition.
They don’t actually want to devote themselves to the life of going through mental and physical consumption almost every day, they just like the aesthetic appeal of it all.
Which theoretically speaking, is probably the root cause as to why so many people are falling in and out of their supposed beloved hobbies and dream jobs once they realized that oh damn, this is not what I thought I signed up for.
They obviously just catered to the scenarios of what happens after the supposed hard work, not really taking into account the actual labor that comes into play in order to achieve said indulgences that you were lusting after.
This is why it’s best advised to ask someone what they would like to commit themselves to for the long term in their career, instead of just asking them what they want to become.
Because I can declare, front and center right now, so many occupations that I want to become for its general appeal — I’ve wanted to become an illustrator as a child because I wanted to recreate the same type of animations I saw on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network because of the enjoyment I obtained as a child watching them.
I also wanted to become a psychiatrist during the ages of 15–16 years old because I wanted to help other people better understand their mental health issues and how they can overcome them, not until I researched the course subjects I needed to study in college to become a full-time psychiatrist and realized that I won’t be able to maintain staying devoted to it for the long haul.
Even despite my desperation of wanting to help others, I knew wanting to choose psychology but being wary of the requirements meant that I wasn’t up for the job.
I reconsidered the cons more than the pros, the long-term effects and if I would be able to maintain doing it whilst pushing through the inevitable burnouts I knew I had to face.
Because that’s what needs to happen in order to better learn if you’re actually truly passionate about something, or you’re just in it for the fantasy.
Which, don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely fine to fantasize and daydream about what you want to achieve and do in this life, I encourage it even because that’s how actual creative minds get started, that’s how I got started, and even until now, I still do it because sometimes real-life and all of its mundanity can be insufferable. We need the bridges of ideas and possibilities to walk on in order to fully arrive towards our potential and what we need to seek after.
But sometimes, doing that simply isn’t enough to prepare you for what the real world has to offer once you’ve decided to devote yourself to said goal.
As much as I hate to burst one’s bubble, the sad reality for all of us is we all go through hurdles even in things we absolutely love doing. Whether it be hobbies that morphed into careers, devoting yourself to an idea of becoming something also means devoting yourself to the good and ugly of it all — and not just the good, because unfortunately life isn’t like that.
You can’t just say that you want something or want to become someone without weighing the unavoidable mishaps that go along the way of committing to it. It isn’t until you’ve actually gone through the struggles is when you’ll find yourself saying “This isn’t what I wanted!”
But it is, by wanting something means that you’ll have to embrace not only the euphoric moments of immersing yourself in it but also moments that aren’t as perfect. When you completely lose control over the steering wheel but still convince yourself that you need to navigate through this road, even with the possibility of a dead-end. Because it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll gain overnight success, because that simply doesn’t exist.
What does exist, of course, is the sporadic days of joy, anger, resentment but also self-fulfillment that you gain. Because you can’t always stay loving the same thing for the rest of your life.
From time to time, you will find yourself loathing what you do but at the same time… accepting it as it is. Because you know this is what you were destined for, in all of its dents and cracks, you know that as much as it hurts and feels unbearable every now and then is that you can’t picture yourself doing anything else other than this, and that’s when you’ll know.
You won’t need a cottagecore setting to get into the mood neither would you need to embody a specific archetype to fit the role that you aspire to be, a lot of the time you just do it and morph into the archetype without even realizing it, and you get down to doing what you love because you know this is a part of you now, in all of its imperfect glory.
You tolerate the headaches and the burnouts that come with it, but also find yourself gradually immersing yourself in the overall self-indulgence and art that you create, realizing that this is who I am —
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.