Inspiration Through Inadequacy

Sometimes I wonder what my motivations are for doing art in the first place.

Sure, I'm creative. I always have been. I've always been inspired to make things. I've always gotten visions of things that I think would be interesting, or pretty, things I want to take from my imagination and make into a reality.

But why?

I've noticed a pattern in my dreams lately. The truth is, I've never really been fond of dreaming, or for that matter, sleeping. Since I was a child, it's not been the restful, happy experience it's supposed to be. I vacillate between insomnia and fitful, uncomfortable dreams almost all of the time. It has improved as I've gotten older, now that I've researched various ways to aid this situation, but it's still a problem.

The best part about my dreams lately has been the consistent guest starring role of Joey, but even his presence hasn't changed the overall theme I've come to expect. (And I suppose they can't all be like this one.)

Basically most of my dreams revolve around the feeling that I'm perpetually rejected, dismissed, forgotten, and abandoned. It starts with a feeling, and then I seem to create a dream-plot that substantiates those feelings.

Lots of fun.

My art, however, has always been an effort to create a mood of happiness for me. Peace, serenity, beauty, tranquility. Something that I could wrap myself up in and counteract all the negativity that permeated my thoughts.

I started to wonder if the artistic leanings I had from the time I was a very young child was in response to the internal struggles I feel have always been in the background of my life. Perhaps art is my way of countering those ongoing fears of inadequacies I've always had. Perhaps I am creating the very feelings I wish I had more of, pushing out the negative thoughts by simply overwhelming them with positive ones.

This week, as I looked around at the many paintings in process in my studio, I noticed a very clear theme. Everything, every single one, is painted in shades of the color I find most soothing, most tranquil, most beautiful in the world. In fact, I made a conscious decision that this new collection of artwork was going to intentionally reflect what is essentially my most "happy place" in art. The colors of serenity, at least in my world anyway.

I think I'm being purposefully meditative. I've had a weird year. There's been a lot of wonderful things in my life this year, but there's also been a fair amount of sadness and chaos. I want all my work for this new collection to reflect my ideals of peacefulness. I want to be surrounded in tranquility.

Is art a way for me to create a world I often don't feel exists internally? Is my brain seeking balance for my lifelong fears? This makes sense to me actually. I have a measure of control over my artwork, and can explore my own interests and curiosities however I may choose, without threat of rejection.

I guess on some level, I am seeking to engage people though. I want to express the things I see, the thoughts I have, to you, to the rest of the world. I want to manifest my view of life in a way that exists outside of language, culture, and bias.

I want my spirit to be seen.

Artists: Why do you create? What feelings do you have that are best expressed through your artistic medium? Do you feel your art is compensating for anything?


Allegra Hawksmoor said...

A really interesting insight into your creative process and how you work.

In some ways, I'm in a very similar place. I've also always had problems with sleeping, and with the dreams I have when I -do- sleep. I don't always have them, but it's always the first sign that something isn't right with me somehow. When that happens, I dread going to bed, and put it off for as long as I can.

But I deal with it very differently from you. I've written for as long as I can remember, and for most of that time, I guess I've used it as a way of exploring that darkness.

So, a lot of the landscapes I find myself writing in are twisted, spiralling out of control. I write a lot about the struggle of the individual against something huge and black and unfathomable. My stories are most often set in hostile landscapes, or in places where society itself is hostile.

I guess I just find myself writing the same sort of struggles that I have in myself, in my life, and in my dreams. Mind you, a lot of my fears and dreams focus around the idea that I'm ultimately unlikeable and unlovable. I believe that love is a real, physical thing, but that I've never been entitled to it or worthy of it. And yet, I write a lot of stories where love is vitally important--not just romantic love, but friendship and kinship and loyalty that is the only ray of hope in a hostile world. So, maybe I'm just doing the same as you after all.

Interestingly, my partner of the last twelve years has suffered from clinical depression for as long as I've known him, and he leans more towards your way of processing everything. His stories aren't necessarily happy, but he does certainly have this same tendency to insulate himself from despair with joy.

Shayla Maddox said...

Thanks so much for that. Very well put.

I think most times, we create what we wish for, even if that wish is to understand the darkness. Perhaps it's a way in which to have control over the darkness, since it's yours to move about and change, rather than it having control over you.

I've been told before, when I'm having a rough time of things, to "paint through my negativity" (anger, sadness, fear, depression, etc.) I generally find it difficult, as though I'm creatively blocked.

In some ways, I see it as a battle in which I refuse to let the darkness win. I don't want to be sad (or what have you) therefore I don't want to give it more attention than necessary.

I generally spend a bit wallowing in the negative feelings, until I feel bored or finished with them, and then miraculously have all sorts of energy with which to create things that personally uplift me.

However, I'd like to one day conquer my seeming inability to paint my darkness too, and perhaps have a collection of work that reflects such. :)

Allegra Hawksmoor said...

That's a tricky one, and it's actually something I've been working on doing myself for the last couple of months. The idea of creatively exploring the 'Shadow', as Jung would put it.

See, I've always been drawn to art (of all kinds) where the artist is actively exploring the parts of themselves that they would otherwise keep hidden (destructive and self-destructive tendencies, their fears--especially a fear of death).

I love art that is wonderful and peaceful as well, especially the kind that shows how beautiful the universe is, how beautiful -we- are, or reflect the feelings I have about the interconnectedness of everything (because all things are one thing, right?). That's why I love your artwork.

(None of that is hugely relevant to the discussion, but I say it because I don't want to give the impression that I -only- love wallowing in misery!)

But although I explore a lot of dark places and ideas when I write, I have serious problems in using art as a way of accessing the darkness that's inside -myself-. I guess it's only natural--confronting the bits of yourself that you don't like, your greatest fears, isn't exactly the kind of thing you wake up in the morning and look forwards to doing!

When I try, I experience exactly the same 'block' that you're talking about. I find it really, really difficult, and end up shying away from doing it at all.

For me, I'm pretty sure that there are two parts to the way that I need to overcome that block. The first is learning to love and value all parts of myself, including the parts that get banished to the corners of my mind. The ones that I like to pretend don't exist. To learn to embrace those desires I have to be destructive, to be self-destructive, to be selfish or vicious, and the parts of myself that feed on anxiety, fear and distress, or are desperately afraid of dying.

The second thing I need to learn is not to use the whole thing as yet another reason to beat myself up and tell myself I'm worthless, because that only ever leads to more inaction, more creative drain, and more beating myself up because I'm not doing what I think I -should- be doing.

Ultimately? I think these things are just hard because they're HARD, you know? We don't want to go messing around with our deepest, darkest fears because we're afraid of what we might find in there.

It's especially true for people who spend a lot of their lives struggling with negative emotions: It's hard enough to keep those feelings in check at the best of times, if we open up that box of our own free will, how the hell do we know that we're ever going to be able to get the lid back on again?

I dunno. These are all just thoughts that I've been having about what's relevant to myself and my own creative process. I certainly think that everyone has their own path. What's right for me may or may not be right for you or for anybody else. And I'm still very much working out what my path is and how the hell I even start to follow it.

Hey, but if you ever decide that you want to have another shot at 'painting through' that darkness, I would totally be up for seeing what that looks like, chatting about it, or even have another go at 'writing through' my own so we can contrast and compare.

Misery loves company, right? ;)