Shut Up And Paint, Part…what are we up to now?

Rant time!

A coupla people have sent me this link about scientists having located a possible connection between insanity and creativity. And when I read it, I groaned a little, and clutched my head, and said “Greaaaaat.”

I am all for science. I am delighted they did this study, and delighted to know a bit more about the human brain, and if I had my way, such studies would have all the money they need and political campaigns would have to sell raffle tickets. But still I groaned.

It’s not that I’m worried about being insane myself, since I have met insanity and watched it do an interpretive dance in my living room, (True story.) and I figure as long as I’m not doin’ that kinda shit and manage to pay my bills and not wander into traffic and don’t bring up in casual conversation that I’m the reincarnation of an Egyptian hedgehog, I got nothin’ to worry about. Crazy? Maybe, but meh, I’m way too busy to spend much time thinking really hard about my mental state. In my experience, there are basically two kinds of crazy people–the ones that have really, really major stuff often quantifiably wrong with the wiring of their noggin and need either temporary or permanent medical intervention; and those would be much less crazy if they’d get a hobby other than navel-gazing. If there is something genuinely wrong with you, go get treatment. (Depression counts.) If not, then quit dwelling on it! The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the overexamined life is no great shakes either.

No, what bugged me about this article was the immediate realization that it’s gonna get used as an excuse.

No, not to lock up creative people as dangerously insane–that way lies paranoia and tinfoil hats. No, it’ll join the others in that vast range of excuses that people make for why they can’t be good artists, and thus shouldn’t try. C’mon, you know the litany. And if you don’t, I’m gonna inflict it on you, ‘cos I’m in one of those moods. This is particularly vitriolic today, and I apologize, but I’m so very tired of people who are not only in love with their own inadequacy but want to share that love with the rest of us.

I can’t be a great artist because I haven’t been drawing since birth!
Grandma Moses started at ninety and is famous. Now, I happen to think most of her work is dreadful, but she’s famous anyhow. I personally didn’t start drawing until I was seventeen, and if you’d asked me prior to that what the very LAST thing I wanted to do with my life was, I’d’ve said “Art.” I was deadset against the very notion. (Which is not to say that I’m a great artist, or any better than Grandma Moses, but it was the closest case history I had on hand.) It’s great if your progentive sperm brought along his own set of Prismas, but it’s Not Required, nor does it guarantee success. There are some amazingly bad artists out there who apparently emerged from the womb clutching a drawing, and have carefully avoided improving since then.

I can’t be a great artist because I don’t have the equipment.
Cry me a river–99% of what you need to do to get good is done with a pencil and paper, and they’re cheap. Past that, artists throughout history have gone hungry to buy supplies, have had day jobs, and so forth and so on. I also hear this as “I don’t have the time,” which I am much more sympathetic to, but really, nobody has the time when they start. I’ve gotten up at 3 AM to work on paintings before my job started, and I have run on less than five hours of sleep a night for weeks on end so that I could get painting in. I haven’t had a social life in years. There is never a mystical point where suddenly you Have Time To Paint–you make the time. If you’re waiting until you have time, you never will. Don’t fool yourself. Things will rush in to fill the gap. It’s okay to be occasionally overwhelmed–everybody is–but you have to plan time NOW, not later. (Eventually, if you make time long enough, you quit your day job and have all the time you need, and then find yourself staring wretchedly at the canvas unable to think of anything, but them’s the breaks.) My mother was, at one point, a single mother with a horrible day job who still managed to paint and fight her way to painting full-time. It’s possible. It’s not easy, and it sucks, and this is the only excuse I’m sympathetic to, because we’ve all been there.

I can’t be a great artist because I’m right-handed and only left-handed people are right brained and only right brained people are creative. (No lie, I’ve heard this one.)
Unless you are prone to grand mal seizures and have taken the precaution of having your corpus callosum cut so that your brain hemispheres can’t talk to each other at all, this is a load of horseshit, and you ought to be ashamed for abusing science in such a fashion.

I can’t be a great artist because I don’t have talent.
The great thing about talent is that it’s retroactive. You work like a dog for a few years, and then suddenly people start telling you that you’re talented. Talent is great and fine and it’s perfectly okay to say “Gosh, Bob is talented!” but it is NOT okay to say “I can’t succeed because I’m not as talented as Bob.” It’s okay not to be as good as Bob. If I made a list of people who are better than me at my chosen field, I’d be here all month. But if you’re using Bob’s talent as an excuse for why you’re not as good as Bob, it’s time to stop dwelling on your inadequacy and get back to painting. Bob’s talent is not holding you back, you are.

Those are excuses I see fairly frequently, and I always roll my eyes. But the one that’s arisen in recent years, the one that really drives me up the wall, and which this article largely feeds into, is this:

I can’t be a great artist because I don’t have (insert peculiar mental oddity here).
The mental oddity can range from dyslexia to synaesthesia to being raised Catholic. But I don’t care what it is, it’s all idiotic. I have known a few good artists who were dyslexic or synaesthetes, or lapsed Catholics, but I have known plenty more who weren’t. While a particular bit of history or headwiring may inform a particular person’s style, artists are so different that for any given cranial quirk, only a few percent will probably have it. But still, every couple months, I see somebody use brain chemistry as an excuse for why they are incapable of greatness. Makes me absolutely nuts. (Still not doing interpretive dances in the living room, but significantly closer than I would be otherwise.)

People make excuses for all kinds of reasons, but it usually boils down to this–excuses are easier to make than art.

The fact is, if you’re sitting around making excuses for why you can’t be a good artist, then you’re right. You can’t be. You don’t need to invent the reasons for it, because A) it’s self evident, and B) no one but you cares. Sure, you could’ve been great, if only you smelled colors or had a low latent inhibition score or were a left-handed altarboy, but you weren’t, and there are no also-ran prizes. History is full of people who could have been great and weren’t. They’re called “the general populace.” History is also full of people who had reasons not to be great, and were, and those are the ones who have their names in the textbooks.

It’s perfectly fine to think other people are better, but don’t work up these elaborate mental constructs about how they’re better because of unavoidable accidents of brain chemistry and upbringing. If whatever form of insanity was actually critical, art school wouldn’t bother with figure drawing, they’d just feed you sheets of LSD until you could find your way around the color wheel by taste and could stare at a grapefruit for two days without getting bored, and couldn’t spell one-letter words without a dictionary. Stop burning that creative energy on martyrdom, and start burning it on art.

And now, I’m gonna take my own advice and shut up and paint.

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