“There’s such a fetish for happiness these days, it’s as if there’s no place left for being sad. But sadness, in the form of melancholy or even depression, can be a source of creativity. From Hamlet to TS Eliot, it’s the opposite of happiness that more often produces the finest lines” – Robert Rowland Smith
Since a number of people have commented on the fact that a lot of the girls I draw look sad… I thought I would try and offer something of an explanation as to why this might be.
Firstly, I like to think that there is much more depth to my work than sadness, there are layers and complexities, just as in human emotions. Secondly, not everyone may like to read any form of ‘explanation’, because after all it us ultimately up to the viewer, the observer of the work to determine what they see in any piece of art, in any painting, film, book etc, everyone has their unique interpretation of it. So with that in mind, the following is simply an attempt at an analysis of my own work, which I probably won’t do terribly well as that is the reason for creating visual art in the first place… (“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint” – Edward Hopper) So if you like my work as it is and need no further words, but simply like it just because, then please don’t feel the need to keep reading, and also thank you for liking my work in the first place…
Everyone will, or probably already has, experienced deep pain, of the emotional variety I mean. The truth is, in my opinion, is that every human is so very fragile, even if they perhaps don’t admit it to the world, or even to themselves. The more I know of the world and of people, the more I believe this to be true, and I don’t think there are any exceptions. As we grow up we each adapt and learn different ways of coping with this affliction – or many simply don’t cope.
I am definitely not saying that I am solely expressing pain through my work, it is more that I use it to create work. I use pain, but I also use the array of thoughts, emotions, experiences, things out of my control and things that can never be answered, I use all of it. So when someone asks me what inspires me, it is quite tricky to answer, because yes, I am inspired by music, people, colour and nature, but the glue, the fire where this all accumulates and turns into work, is what is inside of me. I struggle to explain this in words properly as it is not as if I sit down and decide to dig up all these feelings etc inside of me, it is just a part of me, and my work is a part of me, whether that is conscious or not I’m not sure, but that is why, of course sometimes the girls in my drawings look sad, because sometimes I am sad, or have been sad. Perhaps that is putting it too simply, because when it happens, it often feels as if I am not even fully in control of it, it is like I have managed to tap into a source within me and sometimes it seems to explode all over the page I am drawing/ painting on. But sometimes I can’t even tap into it, it’s like it isn’t there.
The connection between emotions and creating art is of course not a new one, and should definitely be used to it’s full potential more. If we gave the creative arts even more credit in terms of helping people through stress, depression or ptsd for example, perhaps we could end this battle and stigma which surrounds mental health in the first place.
Alain de Botton, a philosopher I respect a lot (I have probably mentioned him in my blog before!), talks about this idea of art as therapy a lot. I have yet to read it, but here is a link to his book on such matters.
If you don’t feel like reading the book, here is a short video where he touches on the subject, and if you don’t feel like watching the video, here are a couple of my favourite quotes from him in the video:
On art : ‘Illuminating aspects of our deeper selves’
On the purpose of art: ‘To find an echo of our deepest and most complex sorrows …. To help us to live and to die’
I have also heard him talk about a word ‘Sublimation’, which my translation of means to channel and use complex emotions within us and turn them into art whether that be visual art, writing, or of course music. He explains it better in his words here:
“One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is teach us how to suffer more successfully. … We can see a great deal of artistic achievement as “sublimated” sorrow on the part of the artist, and in turn, in its reception, on the part of the audience. The term sublimation derives from chemistry. It names the process by which a solid substance is directly transformed into a gas, without first becoming liquid. In art, sublimation refers to the psychological processes of transformation, in which base and unimpressive experiences are converted into something noble and fine — exactly what may happen when sorrow meets art.”
Perhaps there is a more specific word for what I am referring to. Whatever you want to call it, it is extremely powerful. It can propel you through the hardest times, it can force you to keep on working, keep on pushing, in a way these are the best times for creating your best work. When you get too comfortable and have no worries about life, relationships, or money matters, where is the drive? Where is the force keeping you aiming, striving.
I am a generally a positive person, and I try to find ways to maintain this – a balanced lifestyle, yoga, meditation etc. But in this troubled world, – which there is no denying is what it is, you don’t have to look very far to see so – there are always going to be days or weeks when you feel negative and struggle to stay motivated and upbeat. No one is happy all the time, and if they say they are they are either 1. Lying 2. In denial (i.e lying to themselves) or 3. Have managed to reach enlightenment (nirvana) and nothing bothers them anymore. If, you are like most people, and your day to day life is filled with ups and downs, if you have not yet found that something, or things, that help you channel this into something powerful, I encourage you to find out where and what it is. Once you can use this energy for something positive, it makes it a whole lot easier to pull yourself out of a negative space.
And on that note, I want to add that I feel extremely lucky to have this thing that I feel like I can always turn to, and that will always be there, I don’t think I will ever stop creating and that alone brings me great comfort.
Thanks again for reading,