Soon after I published my post The “Why?” Statement – guidelines, I received the following e-mail that I want to share with you. It brings up an important issue that directly address the underlying reasons many people create art. Often those reasons are too personal to share, but universal in nature and we need to talk about them.
I apologize that it’s taken me so long to reply (once again). Things are finally starting to slow down a bit, and more terrifyingly, I seem to have some time to myself!So, I’ve been going through the “Why?” series tonight and trying to get a handle on it. There are two obstacles that I’m not sure I can overcome, to be honest. The first is that I am incredibly uncomfortable writing about myself, though when pressed, I have certainly capitulated. The second (and likely more difficult obstacle) is that my answer to “Why?” isn’t especially happy. It extends far beyond the subject of photography, really, and I find it hard to separate it from the larger question of why I do anything at all. Why I am driven to excel; why am I driven to prove my worth over and over again?You’re quite correct when you state that the answer may take some introspection, although I have actually been aware of this for some time now. I say this not to illicit sympathy, of course; it’s a statement of fact and I’ll admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed that the answer is so cliché – as the child of two self-involved alcoholics, I developed a habit of seeking their attention (and more importantly, their approval) through achievement.It’s fair to say that this shaped me into a fiercely independent person. I was a shy but willful child, and thankfully had the presence of mind to make my own decisions. I would not become a doctor or lawyer or whatever high-paying, high-status vocation they’d propose; no, I would do things my way, and earn their respect my way.30 year later, I’m still doing things my way (for better or for worse), and I do it because it’s what I want.But on the rare occasion that mom messages me to praise a recent photo, I am that child all over again, and I am so proud.
When I first read this I will admit it hit pretty close to home. I am also an adult child of an alcoholic and that experience informs my life and my actions over and over again. I have given much thought to how artists channel their pain, frustration, humiliation, anger, hurt …. whatever negative energy they have bottled up inside of them to create amazing art. I think there is real power in harnessing that emotional pain and turning it into something beautiful to share with the world. I have seen it over and over again in my friends who are also artists.
So if this hits close to home for you I want you to know that you are not alone. We have all been there in one form or another. It is important to acknowledge that the pain and anger we carry around with us can be a gift if we choose to guide that emotional energy into something that we can share with the world. The simple act of creating art is incredibly therapeutic and a very real step on the road to healing oneself.
So the next time you hear that old chestnut, “Art Saves Lives” remember, the life it saves, may be your own.