Read an interview with any local or small-time singer/songwriter. Inevitably, they will mention something about how their songs are inspired by great emotion. Whether it be breath-taking heights of a first kiss or the brain shattering lows of being cheated on, any artist will tell you that great art comes from reality. From like the real truth of the world, man.
But is that true? Or, more importantly, is that sustainable and desirable?
Someone once mentioned to me that he wasn’t sure that he’d ever be a great designer because he didn’t think he was “crazy enough.” And he does have something of a point. As far as I know, he hasn’t ripped off his ear like Van Gogh, or overdosed on heroine like all our favorite comedy actors. Heck, he hasn’t even lost 60 pounds so he could convincingly portray a lunatic insomniac. And yet, somehow, he continues to produce and be successful.
Why is that?
The older I get, the more unwilling I am to sit around and wait for “inspiration” to hit me. I find if I can’t write a good song or make a decent fart joke without first getting broken up with or eating from Taco Bell, then how good could I really be at my job?
The idea that one would need to experience a terrible life or overdose on rancid meat to make good art really just cheapens the whole thing. Bruce Wayne, the world’s greatest artist, didn’t become Batman because his parents died. He actually almost went to jail because he was just going to murder the guy responsible.
What made him Batman was years of training and learning the art of punching people in the face until they passed out. Sure he was inspired by his parents’ death and that motivation drove him, but if he was only ever motivated to weave a tapestry of comatose criminals if somebody he loved got shot to death, he’d eventually be forced to pretend that people being killed on TV were his long-lost aunts or something. He’d be struggling for legitimate motivation, basically.
It’s the same with artists of something besides being bat-like. A lot of musicians, for example, do manage to use that sort of pain to create their art, but sadly a lot of them burn out very quickly. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, Chris Farley–this list goes on and on with artists that overdose on drugs or commit suicide. It just isn’t a sustainable way to approach life or work.
As unsexy as it may sound, art should be like any other work. Maybe it’s more fun, and some people think it’s the most meaningful thing in the world, but when it all comes down, it needs to be treated like work. Does a boss expect an accountant to only work when he’s just super pumped about numbers that day? Of course not. Nothing would ever get done.
To be a truly effective artist, time should be dedicated to your craft every day. If your parakeet hasn’t been brutally murdered in the night, you still need to find ways to write or paint or direct or do something. You won’t get better at your craft by forcing yourself into highly emotive situations all the time. You’ll just end up ruining your life. What you’ll find is that you are more motivated and creative, just by going through the effort of writing when you don’t feel like it. Maybe the story behind your work won’t be as awesome, but you’ll actually be a contributing member of society which is a win in my book.
There are many successful artists who have realized that inspiration is really just whatever you make. Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration. Just write something.