Join us for a discussion of part five of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book Big Magic, Trust
The notion of the tortured artist is one we learn early. I knew from a young age that I liked art, wanted in on it in some way. Like many kids, that was what I wanted to be, “an artist” was my perpetual answer to the obvious question. As a 6th grader, I dressed up like Monet for a project, nimbus-like beard and all, and hobbled around with a cane for most of a day (a shtick that might earn you an A, but not many friends), in high school I skipped other classes in favor of hiding out in the art room (a shtick that will not garner passing grades in algebra, let me tell you). Despite its constant, and often healing, presence in my life, I never thought of art as a friend. I thought it indifferent, something to be practiced and something to strive for, but certainly something that had no notion of me. Art was something to be good at, or at least attempted. Art can heal, art can be there when others aren’t, and art can — seemingly — turn against us just as easily. Perhaps its because of this that many artists feel their art is against them, something to push and break through, a thing to be struggled with and tortured by. It certainly never occurred to me to think of art as my friend.
This notion persisted through college, where I actually wondered (still do, to be honest) whether I was too content to make good art. “Have not had enough terrible experiences?” I asked myself.
And yet.. the idea of the tortured artist remains. Van Gogh cut off his ear. Pollock drank. If you’re a reasonably contented human, can you be a decent, or dare I say, talented artist?
Of course. Yes. Duh.
It’s just not that easy, we first have to get past the idea that art is pain. That nothing beautiful comes easy. That we should not revel and enjoy our own creative processes. In Truth, Elizabeth Gilbert introduces the insane notion that the beauty of our art may not actually lie in the struggle we endure to create it. It’s not a suffering contest.
One artist may suffer in earnest, her art assuaging her wounds. Another artist may be completely happy in her life. Neither one is more worthy of the creative spirit.
After Permission and Persistence, two chapters I admittedly had a difficult time digesting, Truth felt like a return to the inspiring aspects of the earlier chapters of Big Magic. As Gilbert states, she does not deny the reality of suffering — and neither do I — but it would likely do us all some good if we could get over the idea that to be worthy of our art we must be in some sort of pain. Art is beauty, after all.
+ What did you think of this chapter?