‘I never knew what changed you… Did they paint your dreams?’
– Nevermore Lyric, from ‘Dreaming Neon Black’
Art is insanity.
My wife asked me the other day why she never sees me drawing pictures anymore. She loves my old paintings, and she shows them off proudly when our friends come to visit. She often prods me to play guitar for her, too. Sometimes I do, because I love her and I like seeing her smile. Thankfully, she’s not much of a reader; she seldom delves into my old writings, and that’s probably a good thing. She would see far more of me in them than she’d want to, and she would come to know me far better than anyone should ever to know their marital lover.
From time immemorial (or at least as far back as I can remember, immemorial or not) I was an artist. Childhood crayons turned into pencils, which became ink pens, and then evolved into paintbrushes. Schoolwork essays became short stories, which matured into novels, which then blossomed into epics. Head-banging to hard rock led to guitar playing, that…
And there I stopped.
Rather suddenly, actually, for I learned something over my short little lifetime.
Everything has a price tag.
Everything has a price tag, and you will pay it. No one cheats Death, for instance; it is the price tag attached the unavoidable act of Living. The price of Love is Loss. The price of finding God is the abandonment of Self. The fee for Freedom is the unholy carnage we know as War.
Every eternal constant is paid for by its own polar opposite, creating a pell-mell kaleidoscope of endless juxtaposition. Those who think that they can avoid paying the price end up paying double the price, reeling as Fate deals them its hand in gleeful vengeance. Everything has a price…
And the price of Art is madness. The more you seek of one, the more of the other you will find, until at last you cease to make coherent sense. The world around you becomes a surreal fog, scarcely more than an evanescent haze that irritates you at best. The only thing that is real to the artist is himself… and his fantasies, without which ‘himself’ would soon become a meaningless concept.
His self-inflicted poison might be the written word; perhaps he wallows in tales best left unspoken, and views the world through the multiple personalities that he’s conjured from his own fractured being. Maybe it’s music, and he despairs that the rest of us will ever understand the messages conveyed by his notes. For notes speak in a language that transcends the mundane-ness of words, but alas… only the dedicated artist can translate their whispered messages.
Perhaps his self-destructive muse is the written word. I don’t mean the ‘written word’ as it pertains to the journalist, or the random scribbler. No, I am talking about the ‘written word’ as in Poe, Twain, and Mary Shelley.
I leapt into a mystical pool of self-obsessed thought, first jumping from the diving board of Visual Media. Thirsting for more, I swam toward the deeper waters of the Written Word. I scrambled out of the pool before Music consumed me… but in the years prior, I sold my soul in exchange for gifts that enriched my life no one whit.
Artists are a broken lot, a twisted breed that redefines ‘narcissism’. Without exception, the artist – more so than anyone else – lives in two worlds: The one into which he was forced by ignominious indignity of birth, and the one he himself has created.
The problem is, no one was ever meant to play God save God Himself. With every nibble from the Tree of Knowledge, a burning flare is tossed on your behalf toward the Tree of Life. Artists feel pain like no one else, and they subsequently fear it so badly that they cannot pull their thoughts from it. Artists see life more clearly than anyone else ever could… and they run screaming from it, diving into maudlin, feverish creation until Life at last offers them some relief by becoming a bit blurry.
As every fantasy – every picture, paragraph, and note – becomes clearer, Life becomes less clearly defined. And the better the artist becomes at Art, the more he fails at Life. The more he grasps the Transcendent, the less he is able to handle the Hum-drum. Careers fail, marriages fall, addictions form, relationships strain, and the only relief for the artist is more of the same behavior that caused his melancholia in the first place.
This cycle is breakable. At least sometimes it is, although relapses are common. But the cycle can be broken.
But only barely…
I seize every possible opportunity now to fix or build something, be it a broken toilet, or a piece of furniture. ‘Building’ is different from ‘creating’; building is safe. It won’t drive you crazy. I take every chance I get to cuddle with my wonderfully normal wife; she is a refreshing anchor for a man whose mind won’t always stand for being tamed.
It’s amazing how the Mundane so admire the Artistic. Do we mystify them? Or do they have some inkling of what we truly are… and thus they find it safer to admire us from afar rather than to join our ranks? (I firmly believe that anyone who chooses to can become an artist; you just have to be willing to let go of everything you could have otherwise been. Is it a deal with the Devil, perhaps?)
I hate when others shake their heads at me, pointing out the ‘shame’ of letting my ‘talent’ go to waste. F*** you, my sinful nature is tempted to retort. YOU live with the hellish curse of existing in some ethereal, otherworldly half-life, and see how YOU like it!!!
But maybe that’s the point? Maybe the hoi polloi want people like me to live that way, so the world will remain saturated with artistic ‘beauty’ while the common rabble wholesale avoid suffering the Artist’s Curse themselves. Maybe they understand more of our curse than they let on, those mundane people. I’m not saying they really understand, mind you; I’m just saying that maybe they have an inkling.
If they’re smart, they’ll remain content with that inkling.