Every artist I know is an embattled person. Making something out of nothing is difficult, and with the stress of regular life on top of that being an artists can feel like a two front war.
The reason we respect great jokes, paintings, or architecture is because they are improbable near miraculous accidents. The country songwriter that churns out 90 unbearably ok chorus ideas knows that all this is necessary to birth the one hit. Somehow we have to strain and labor before an effortless idea glides into the room like a prom date.
This constant pulling on the invisible is the primary and only job of an artist.
In the church world I came of age in, people believed in prophets. A prophet could be defined as someone who would receive an impression of what they thought God was saying in the moment to the congregation.
To me, that is a very clear parallel to what it means to create. There is plenty of craft, but it is also a process of waiting to receive. If you can’t embrace this, you will never go deeper than the top of your head. You can always tell when someone’s writing lives on the surface. It’s the difference between saying “the river was shining bright” and saying “the Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar”.
Good writing, good art, requires a relationship.
In my own life, I try to embrace this albeit very imperfectly. I’ve spent the last four years doing stand up. Being part of the comedy scene in 2018 was kind of stressful for me. I think I’m experiencing some type of growing pain.
I’m not a beginner anymore. I’ve had some days in the sun, but I’m painfully aware how far up the mountain goes. The unbearable part however is being around other creative people. Like marriage, its heaven or hell based on you and the person next to you.
Being in a room full of talented hilarious hard working people is a high and one of my greatest joys. But being around needy undisciplined would be artists some times makes me feel like I am drowing. Not because I am better than them, but because I have just enough energy to keep my own head above the waves and keep kicking my feet. If you aren’t pushing, I can’t carry you. Not because I don’t want to help, but because I am not strong enough to pull us both to shore. Also, the people who want your help the most are often doing the least. You can’t help them. Their resistance is so strong that even outside intervention can’t save them. They are their own anchor.
To be great, you have to separate from your chaos.
Art can come from your chaos, but your chaos is not art. I think I’m starting to realize how much I’ve relied on my drama instead of my craft. They are two distinctly separate things. My drama can sometimes lead to art, but my craft can make art ten out of ten times blindfolded.
In the beginning, I think its ok to use whatever you have to to get that joke written or that song finished.
But after a while, you have to learn to stratify the part of you that makes and the part of you that lives. There is a different between the forest that grows trees and the factory that makes the raw material into paper. Of the two, the only one you have absolute control over is your factory. The raw materials may change but your skills don’t have to.
I think people assume the chaos is outside of them. This is almost never true. The problem is that you are the chaos. You are the one allowing the distraction. And once you remove this traitorous instinct, you can really get things done.