When I first became a musician, to get by, I used to write articles for a hearing-aid-app, while I collected coats and abuse off drunken teens until 5am at Kaffee Burger, a historic, albeit wilting Berlin venue where I played shows weekly.
I thought It was fantastic.
After reading Down & Out in Paris in London and A Moveable Feast, where great artists talked about the pangs of hunger so romantically, I felt I was living it.
One night, around 2am, a drunk threw up in front of the cloakroom. The manager cursed in irritation cleaning it up, only to get hit by the drunk who somehow took offence to the someone cursing over his vomit. I felt a surge of adrenaline, ran for the giant, who’d subsequently grabbed my manager and raising his arm to land him another. Now, I’m scrawny by default, and knowing I couldn’t do much else, flew atop his back, holding this arms back as best I could. The man thrashed his back about like a bull, and I was promptly flown right off, and onto a shelf on the wall.
That rib still kinda has a weird numb ache on occasion.
I remember on my back lying in pain and shock, both me and my manager, and saying something like:
“I don’t think we got him”
and then laughing – well I did, he kinda just writhed in pain some more, so I reduced my laughter somewhat.
When you’re 26, everything’s a story. Every night’s a novelty.
You see a rat, you tell someone.
You witness a public, profanity-laden argument, you tell someone.
Someone you know kissed someone else you know for the first time – you tell someone.
In your thirties, stories start coming in cycles. When you’ve seen a lot more, you don’t talk about it all as much. What you do in your thirties is dissect the cycles, sifting carefully through the experiential dross, threading truths together to see wherein lies a pattern.
You string a bunch of scenarios seen through life together, and faintly you begin to figure out things about yourself and others you’ve never confronted, or even noticed.
Here’s one I only just realised.
Self-destruction is alluring to artists, as more great stories come out of calamities than calm, quiet hours.
All art is self-expression.
Good art is alluring.
And so, a lot of good artists go through rough experiences for the sake of the story.
The noble guise is, they’ll learn from their struggle, and immortalise it in some form or another. Through this act of self-expression, others will feel heard, and so won’t feel so alone.
This is a terrible lie, and like all terribly lies, there’s some truth behind it.
There’s a craving of the dramatic in every artist. And there’s nothing more dramatic than a life full of ups and downs. And there’s solace to be had in seeing your ups or downs represented by another through art.
The thought is, whether unconscious or not, to make something truly good, you have to suffer often, and on a wide scope.
This, thankfully, is just a conceit.
All that really matters to make something of worth for people is practicing sympathy.
Empathy is something you have or you don’t. If you don’t, you have shallow emotive moments, and you’ll go through life absorbed in superficial gains, like tasty treats, toys, sex with strangers, and distancing yourself from deeper relationships.
Sympathy is a muscle that helps hon empathy in those who already possess it.
It’s listening to the drunk at the bar.
It’s leaving judgment to judges.
It’s seeing intentions as equally important as actions.
It’s protecting the confidence someone has placed in you to tell you what they’ve been through.
If you can do that, if you can listen, you can make.
Talking may help get your own thoughts straight, but a journal can do the job far better.
The cycle of throwing as many traumas and dramas through your senses you can muster – does allow for the creation of good art. But, it’s a con, based on correlation and not the true causal effect.
You don’t actually have to be the one creating the experiences that bring about the songs or art, or anything else.
Experience is all around you. You can feel it in the words people give, and in their silences, and in the stories of struggle every soul faces, whether youthful, joyful, horrid or mundane.
People are walking muses. Don’t be swayed by the flashes of lashes, that builder in dungarees could be your biggest inspiration yet.
You don’t have to stick your feet to the fire to create, you just need to listen, and let in.
I wish someone would have told me that when I was lying on my back, holding my rib, and still dreaming up “an artist’s life” for myself – that would mean glamorising scraping by, and playing for pennies. But, then again, who listens to anyone in their twenties? Nor should they. You push it all to the limits for the sake of novelty, for the sake anything new or unexpected. Everyone needs stories in their lives. You have to live life before you can speak about it. But, I think I just became pre-occupied with a certain skewed narrative: that an artist is someone who suffers, because they wish to know suffering, and so can better help ease it.
That’s not so much a conceit as it is misguided.
Art is not solely about struggle, but, all art is self-expression.
That’s just because you’re the one tied to making it.
Someone else’s experiences can give rise to the same inspiration and urge to create.
In the process of portraying another’s experiences in art, you can’t help place with them your own. Neither can anyone else separate their outer perceptions of another from their own memories, feelings and thoughts. We filter everything we intake through an interior life of stories- good, bad and misunderstood. It’s the thread that ties together the cycles of scenarios and encounters through life, we then imbue with meaning.
Art is there to let you know your often inexpressible feelings are not your own, alone. They are shared experiences, a symptom of human biology. You’re not alone. Keep talking when you need to. Listen more, and make.
Art is for those who’ve talked and listened too much, and didn’t hear enough good answers.
Art itself is not a struggle, but a representation of struggle. There’s where the trouble lies.
Another thread comes to me. Another lie I’m faced with.
It doesn’t have to be your own struggle to become great art, but once you let another’s struggle in, it becomes yours.
And so, I lied, you do have to struggle.
But, it’s a struggle for something worthwhile, for solace, and to deride a looming sense of solipsism and isolation that come with time and thinking. Art is the intersubjective act that sends such crippling thoughts packing. Self-sabotage and self-inflicted suffering are piss-poor excuses for making art, but suffering in life is inevitable – the worst of which is that suffered alone. Art remedies this. Art, at it’s best, tells you that whatever it is you’re going through has be part and parcel of life sense the first story was uttered and understood.
Art takes many forms, many guises.
It’s a shared language of the inexpressible, but inexhaustibly felt emotive states.
That’s what art is at its best.