Is there a place for anger in an artist?
I guarantee I won't figure out the answer in one blog post, but I'm thinking it's something I should consider. I saw a thing on the Humans of New York Facebook page the other day, a quote from an artist, talking about how important humility is in an artist. And I absolutely agreed with him, but it made me aware of whether or not I'm very humble. I don't have to think about that long -- I'm probably one of the most prideful artists ever. (How much do I rail against modern dance and modern music because I think it sucks and I can do better?)
But where did this come from? I don't think I've ever been humble to begin with. There have always been things I hated in art and while I have always wanted to capture what I love about the world, I have nothing but contempt for the things that don't touch me. Is that just me? Or is this normal? Should it be so?
Further down the thought trail I realised most of my art -- indeed, most of my life -- comes from a place of anger. Sometimes it's resentment, sometimes it's jealousy, sometimes it's frustration, but it all fits under the same heading. I always had an interest in writing, but I started writing in earnest in the depths of my self-pity after being told by the church youth group that I was unloveable. So I sat in my room and composed stories, mostly about a lonely, rejected main character who either commits suicide (causing everyone who met her to finally realise what jerks they were), or goes off to college somewhere -- effectively falling off the face of the earth -- and climbs the ranks of society or show business and then runs into her detractors by chance years down the road when she's in a higher social class than they. It was my only way of being vindicated -- in my own handwriting, in reams of looseleaf that no-one has ever seen. Later this started to spawn novels with a more diverse plot range, but it started with my rage against all those who claimed to be reflecting the God of love but spread only hate and favouritism against me.
On a different track: I first realised I wanted to make dances when I was about eight years old. I even made a few false starts in my mid teens. But what finally got a dance finished was this: when I finally grew brave enough to even mention to my mother that this was what I wanted, she took it well -- to my face. But that night, after we were all in bed... I went upstairs to get a drink or something and I heard her talking to my dad about me.
"She wants to be some big-shot choreographer now. I don't know where she gets this stuff from. She'll never do it. She doesn't want it bad enough."
I was incensed. This was my life's dream. For years she had been begging me to talk to her, to tell her what was going on in my mind about something, anything. And I finally decided to trust her with this, my deepest and most precious thought (at the time)... and she calls me stupid?
I don't want it bad enough, huh? We'll see about that.
I made a vow that night. I would finish the next dance I started. And if I couldn't finish it, that would be a sign to me that choreography was not what I was meant to do and I would accept that she was right.
I had spent my entire life being a failure. A nobody. Someone who would be better off dead. I'd already written half a dozen novels by that point in my life, but apparently that didn't matter and I was still a failure. With my vow in mind, I started work on Sing Your Freedom not long after that. I finished it.
And I said nothing about it. I finished several more dances. I'm not sure at what point she realised I was finishing them. But by that time I was beyond telling her about my accomplishments. They were worthless anyway. These were for me now. When they went through my stuff after I died -- whenever that would be -- they would find out what a great artist was in their midst. And then they would be sorry for treating me like that.
Delusional? Almost certainly. But I was blind with rage. I was no longer creating to enrich people's lives. I was creating to prove -- if only in my daydreams -- that I was not as worthless as I felt everyone was making me out to be. And in a final twist of pride, I didn't even talk about my work or my accomplishments outside of this blog and occasionally Facebook. The very people I thought I had gone into art for were not privy to the work that I was theoretically doing for them. My gift -- if I even had one to speak of -- was being used for me only, for my own edification and satisfaction. I told myself 'they'll never love you no matter how great your work is so why bother trying?' So I focused on proving to myself that I was great. And thus I started creating art in a complete and total vacuum.