So, I was at coffee with an artist friend and the conversation bent toward our art, as it usually does when two or more artists are gathered. The conversation moved toward the question of ‘why do this?’ The answer has been several different things for each of us over the years, but one true theme seems to have stuck. There seemed to be one answer we could both agree on: We “art” because we have to.
Now, that idea, doing art because you have to, is all well and good. But the resolve in the sentiment ebbs and flows in my life. The heartache of being an artist in an interesting thing. There is a constant struggle. The struggle that lies in this constant, underlying questioning about the vision, the ideas, even the execution of ideas. This strange world the artist lives in is a picky bedfellow. Sometimes there is a sense of reward in the art, sometimes there is loneliness, sometimes self-doubt, sometimes there is an all-encompassing worry about who the fuck you’re doing the art for.
But I’ve been watching my kid play and reliving my own childhood as I watch. And what do ya know, I’ve had a revelations of sorts.
My kid has a wicked imagination. Most hours of the day, the kid gets lost in these elaborate worlds that are created. The backyard becomes a wide open range of cowboys driving cattle. The slide becomes the deck of a ship or a loyal steed. Marauders sail in on the breeze through the back fence. And my kid is thoroughly, overwhelmingly, in the thick of it all.
These scenes, these imaginative backdrops, they do not need permission. They don’t warrant explanation. Talking mermaids, riotous bands of teddy bears, jungles filled with dinosaurs and elephants and giraffes…the kid never stops to think “Is this okay? Why am I doing this? Why am I playing at this? Is it worth it?”
The kid in the midst of imaginative play doesn’t need permission or rights. The kid doesn’t need praise or critique. There is no right or wrong at the heart of what is happening. There is no proper ‘way’ to imagine either.
Last summer, the kid asked me why I didn’t play in the similar fashion anymore. I quickly responded, oh I still do. The shock of my instantaneous answer surprised me. But the fact of the matter is that I really do still immerse myself in the same way I used to when I was a kid with an overactive imagination.
I might not run though the yard, turning plastic airplanes into the real thing or fight off attacking one-eyed monsters with a broken tree branch turned sword. But every time I sit down in front of my computer screen or a blank piece of paper I play. I play like I did when I was a kid, entrenched in my imaginary worlds.
And when I’m well hunkered down, when the daily habit of writing fogs over, the imagination of it all pulls at me and I let go and get lost…that’s the moment I don’t have to wonder if writing is even something I should be doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s worth it. It doesn’t matter why I’m doing it. And it’s completely okay to be doing it because I have to. When I let go of the questions, then, the simple act of writing words on paper has a strange healing. I’m made whole by my art. I am entertained by my art.
I think, if you put the questioning aside, the money, the publishing, the ridiculousness of the processes that someone else deemed long ago was what had to happen in order for one to become a true artist…if you just stop focusing on those ideas for a moment. If you focus on the art, for the sake of art. If I focus on art for the sake of art. If I focus on Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (art is long, life is short). If I don’t ask why or what for, if I just do. Then, the art is not in vain. The life is not in vain. The purpose is tenfold. There is no need to ask anyone, even myself what it’s all for. There is no one I must ask permission.
If i follow that same thought process, there should be no critique or praise that should affect my purpose filled writing. I am writing, writing is me. The two coexist. Turbulent at times, but so be it. I’ve found my truth and power and they lie in the simple act of writing my imaginative story lines on paper and accepting that I do so because I have to. The rest is fluff.