People in every walk of life and in every hemisphere on earth–in cities, on deserts, in towns and villages–long to create something. My nine year old grandson is a talented artist and cellist studying architecture. His six year old sister takes dance and will begin taking piano lessons in the fall. Their forty two year old father was an excellent cellist in his youth and was inspired by the performance of a famous cellist to return to it last year. My wife, is a former cellist, and has taken up water colors and has returned to the piano. I write every day. I have for many years, and when I am not writing I am thinking about it and planning what I will write. We are representative people no different from millions of others with whom we share the globe because the current era is an Age of Heightened Creativity. Little children and women and men of all ages are bent on having creative experiences. They will not let their creative instincts be stifled.
I think it is worthwhile to look at what happens to creative people who have turned to art for fulfillment.
If You Are to Be an Artist, a Decisive Moment Occurs
A decisive moment occurs early in your life or later—an experience happens—and if you are to be an artist, you become aware that this art is the direction that fits you as no other direction will. You feel that it will lead to fulfillment that you probably would not enjoy were you to follow another route. You’ve had a crystalizing experience in a critical moment when you were first focused and organized toward an artistic purpose you knew was right for you and which you wished to pursue further, a sudden attachment to an artistic field that brought with it a motivation and a sense of knowing what you wanted to do in life.
It became a permanent part of your entire being–an idea, a theme, or an image that became a guiding force in your life. You may not be conscious of it, but it starts you out in a creative direction, and gives you a sense of moving steadily in that direction, of heading straight toward something concrete and specific. Making a living in art is difficult and so most artists must find financial security other than in art. But whatever your occupation if you are to be an artist you will define yourself first as an artist, an accountant, HR manger, or English teacher second.
Nature Cooperates With Gifted People
In his Confessions Saint Augustine wrote, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Artists may be guilty of being so totally absorbed in their work that they neglect their health and their families, but are rarely guilty of passing by themselves without wondering. They wonder insatiably about themselves, and explore themselves continually. They do not always understand how it happened that they are more gifted than others but are fascinated by what capabilities they discover in themselves that make their art possible.
Nature equips artists for the creative pursuit that most suits them, making available to them what often will be their most highly developed skill, their core capability, and with an aptitude for a particular art–for painting rather than writing, or acting and not dancing, for example.
Noted composers and performing artists in musical fields–so sensitive to sound and tone—possess what the Germans call Horlust–“hearing passion.” Writers–particularly poets and lyrical writers–have a word passion (they adore words), and painters adore colors and shapes, often from the cradle.
The Self-Absorbed Artist
Artists are absorbed in themselves and smitten by their craft for many practical reasons: first of all because the task of being creative is not like any other tasks. Art comes from the mind of the one person you are, and your duty is to probe that mind’s depths and breadths every time you create. You must plumb from it words, or music, or colors that will be shaped into a finished work with your name on it that will be passed on to an audience who will think, “This is the creation of… (your name); no one else’s. I wonder what they’re like.”
The Inner World of Artists
In a poem poet Emily Dickinson said that the soul selects her own society and shuts the door. Often what is sacrificed and left outside the artist’s closed door is the world of ordinary life–of Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,”
Jean Paul Sartre said, ‘Rather than face the real and terrifying risks of becoming, many human beings prefer not to develop behind the structures, rules, and patterns that society gives them.” Those things may have little or no importance for creative people. Marcel Proust said, “Those who have created for themselves an enveloping inner life pay little heed to the importance of current events.”
What is inside the shut door is the artist’s rich inner life from which creative products pour–without stopping if the artists explore themselves more and more deeply. Transformation of what is inside the artist into what is outside is the overriding goal –to make a book, a painting, a song or a symphony — that is completely as the artist wishes and offering it out to be shared with an appreciative world.
To Artists We Remember Best, Their Art Is All-engulfing.
If you are an artist you are the embodiment of your art. There can be no separating one from the other–art, artist–the work, the producer of the work. You are a daughter or son, citizen of a country, lover, and teacher, true, but you’re also an artist and that artist’s identity may be your center of gravity.
Your art is always somewhere in your mind. It is being processed–being worked up into a properly embellished work–and it is impossible to extract your personality from the work. You cannot be hidden even if you wished to hide. Creative works are the products of the whole person: your intelligence and courage, talents, training, and commitments, your energy, and your memories.
Novelist Henry Miller said, “I don’t care who the artist is, if you study him deeply, sincerely, detachedly, you will find that he and his work are one.” Novelist Joseph Conrad said, “The writer of imaginative prose stands confessed in his works.” Pablo Picasso said, “It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What interests me is the uneasiness of Cezanne, the real teaching of Cezanne, the torment of van Gogh, that is to say the drama of the man.” Artists may try to eliminate themselves from the work, but they can’t. Henry James said that the artist of a work “stands present on every page of every book from which he sought so assiduously to eliminate himself.”
Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. The first is technical: ‘Here is the verbal contraption. How does it work?’ The second is, in the broadest sense moral. What kind of guy inhabits this poem? What is his notion of the good life or the good place? His notion of the Evil One. What does he conceal from the reader? What does he conceal even from himself?” William James said it is the amount of life in the act of creation which artists feel that makes you value their mind.
How Is Creative Excellence to Be Identified In a Person?
As a creative you’re specially endowed with (and may have been born with) not only “creative stuff” but with an assortment of personality qualities that equip you specifically for the writer’s, painter’s, actor’s, composer’s, architect, or dancer’s role. And it’s that identity that gives you the sense that you’re a person with a definite life task—to write, dance, paint, etc.–to create something that comes from your mind, your spirit, and your muscles.
What does a person need to be creative: an active, complex, and excitable mind, and a combination of such inner qualities as curiosity, obsessiveness, doggedness, and endurance. Plus an openness to experience, and an abundance of physical strength and energy. And a high tolerance for ambiguity.
“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself” (Henry Miller).The most interesting thing in art is the artist’s personality. Artists need intensity: “Nothing is at last sacred but the intensity of your own mind” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Artists must be people of action because their main goal is production of works over which they think and sweat. Jean Paul Sartre said, “There is no reality except in action” and said, “Man is nothing else than his plans; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts.”
Artists must be feeling beings because whatever the art may be, the artists’ aim is to express emotions. “Every day I attach less and less importance to the intellect. Every day I realize more that it is only by other means that a writer can regain something of his impressions, reach, that is, a particle of himself, the only material of art” (Marcel Proust). When they are denied the expression of emotions they experience conflict and tension that must find an avenue of relief.
According to critic Malcolm Cowley “Genius is energy–mental energy first of all, but sometimes…physical, emotional, and sexual energy. Genius is vision, often involving the gift of finding patterns” (where others see a random collection of objects.) “Genius is a memory for essential details. Genius…is the capacity for brooding over a subject until it reveals its full potentialities…Genius is also a belief in oneself and the importance of one’s mission, without which the energy is dissipated in hesitations and inner conflicts.”
Besides genius, a creative person has to have talent: technical skills, self-critical ability, and notions about how to present their work so that it appeals. The only obligation that art can be held to is that it be interesting. Who will be the judge of that? Composer Igor Stravinsky preferred the general public: “I am convinced that the spontaneous judgment of the public is always more authentic than the judgment of those who set themselves up to be judges of works of art.”
The Artist’s First Notable Work
The “years of silence” artists often experience is the period when they–even those who are highly gifted–have few tangible successes, or none at all. But that period is not wasted or unimportant. It is a crucial period of growth when the artist acquires knowledge and experience that through practice will culminate in the artist’s first notable work.
What follows then is the full flowering of the artist’s capabilities. Those capabilities become automatic. Then there usually is a rapid increase in the artist’s production of his or her best works that continues for years. There need not be a period of decline. Many artists produce popular works into old age.
Children and adults may drop out, but those who turn to art may well be playing the cello or dancing or painting, only getting better and enjoying their art perpetually–all their lives– with fond memories of what they accomplished and of the exciting people they met on the path they took.
© 2021 David J. Rogers
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9 responses to “Finding Fulfillment in the Arts”
Dear David, As always I look to your posts for insight and inspiration, what would be the singular message hidden in your words for me to find today? When I saw the photo of the rose I knew I must be getting close, and there it was – the years of silence. I feel like I am currently immersed in the years of silence which just happen to coincide with a global pandemic. What better time to withdraw and retreat, with your reassurance that what follows then is the full flowering of the artist’s capabilities. I feel disconnected from the painter that I once was, as in the background my writing bubbles along gaining momentum and asking ‘why not me?’ But just this week I glimpsed the possibility for a new expression of myself, it was something rich and vivid and pulsating. But perhaps that is not at all how the visual artist in me will re-emerge, if indeed I do.
Hello Michelle, dear friend in Australia,
I’ve always felt that The Years of Silence is a wonderful concept because it makes hopeful an experience that can be tremendously frustrating–having to wait for growth, success, and fulfillment–but which in due time and with work occurs.
I realize that you have prodigious talent in at least two areas that I am most familiar with–painting and writing. Now you say that writing is gaining ground over painting, and something new–a new talent? has appeared–a painter who has become a writer also who is becoming something else. I am curious about your metamorphosis, of course, but will wait for you to tell us all more about it.
I had something similar happen to me. I have had the identity of “writer” since I was seven and bloomed into my greatest tangible success at the age of forty–two. But then, as if it had come unexpectedly out of the ether, I realized that I had an important and widely-valued talent to a degree that few people do–I could speak informatively and movingly to very large audiences of thousands who would pay money to hear me. So for years public speaking became my main career, a growing reputation, and source of income, writing secondary.
Michelle, I am so pleased to find you grappling with new possibilities in your life and career. I foresee great success for you.
I wish you well.
I have read and printed this wonderful post. One of the best, I feel. When I have digested, I will comment properly. Thank you, David.
Thank you, Janet. Very glad you liked it. I actually was thinking about you when I was writing it. I look forward to reading your comment.
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Good morning David,
Having re read your post several times, I stand by my comment of yesterday, which is to say that this is one of your very best if not best posts, from my point of view that is. Thank you so much.
There are so many points that I would like to comment on, but let it suffice to say that this is something I and all creatives should have close at hand.
It’s wonderful to hear that all the family are immersed into the creative process and I am delighted that Diana is not only playing the cello (one of my favourite instruments) but also watercolour painting….
We are living in an age of heightened creativity and so with all the madness going on in the world, this is a huge positive.
Your paragraph about the ‘inner world of artists’ is supreme…only an artist like yourself can fully understand this. One thing is for sure there is no separation from the artist and his/her work. The whole process is all encompassing.
A very telling segment – ‘When an artist is denied the expression of emotions they experience conflict and tension that must find an avenue of relief….’
My own favourite saying is – ‘the creative process in all its many forms is the key to emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing’
Finally – ‘The years of silence’. Perfect description and yes a powerful part of any artists life…..
I am sending this post to many people, and will be taking with me to Wales next week…a place where I can ponder, paint, write in perfect circumstances.
Enjoy the rest of the summer my friend, and give my best wishes to all the family. JanetnX
Your comments mean a great deal to me; I respect your opinions on art so much. Thank you for taking the time to read and reflect on the post. I’m so pleased that you think so much of the piece that you will be sharing it with others and be taking it with you to your beloved Wales.
I hope you too enjoy the rest of the summer. Yesterday Diana said to me, “Do you realize that it’s already August 17, and I visualized the dates flying off a calendar as they did in old movies.
I’ll be talking to you again in September after you return from your rest.
Best wishes as always,
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Thank you and yes the year is flying by…..
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My daughter just sent me the book ‘GRIT’ by Angela Duckworth. I think you might find interesting – although definitely not on a par with your writing.
Thank you for the tip. I’ll look into it.
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