Being an Artist is a DisABILITY
And that DisABILITY, if successfully managed, is a gift. Part Three of a Series on Creativity and the Mind.
By the turn of the 19th century, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) admitted in an 1801 letter to his friend, Franz Wegeler …
“I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have creased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.”
However, from 1803 to 1812, Beethoven’s productivity was greater than ever before. Quoting from https://www.biography.com/musician/ludwig-van-beethoven: From 1803 to 1812, what is known as his “middle” or “heroic” period, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six-string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs. The most famous among these were the haunting Moonlight Sonata, symphonies №3–8, the Kreutzer violin sonata and Fidelio, his only opera.
Beethoven was abused as a child and I encourage everyone reading this to read his linked Biography page.
You may well reassess your own difficulties in fulfilling your artistic promise.
Did Beethoven have talent beaten into him? Or did he become a prodigious talent despite the punishment?
Whatever the true answer, he never gave up.
He was incapable of doing so.
Creativity and the Mind: The Series
I did not set out to write a series on creativity. However, both of the below pieces were uniformly praised and well-viewed, and so I will consider this current article a wrap-up of sorts. I do not want to rehash, so here are the links to my newly-christened Parts 1 and 2:
Madness and the Creative Mind: Not a Dime’s Bit of Difference?
There has long been a suspected link between creativity and mental illness.
The Differences Within
All human beings share foibles and quirks endemic to the species. No one is any better than anyone, despite the way they look or think.
Perfection is an ideal and does not exist.
A low-functioning autistic child (as a former special education teacher, I’ve worked with many) may be difficult to handle, but that child is doing what he or she can to the best of their ability to express their needs. Most of us simply do not understand their language.
Artists do what they must to express theirs. For the avoidance of doubt, I am very much stating that creatives, including myself, exist somewhere on the spectrum. There has been far too much work in the neuroscience field to casually toss that comment aside.
So why is it then that those with visible infirmities are looked down upon as different, if not somehow inferior, to those who do not share in their deficits, while artists are often viewed as gifted?
Crazy maybe, but gifted.
Why is it too that many of those same people do not consider themselves infirm at all because, maybe, that is all they know?
Certainly, human beings experience a range of emotions including being depressed, regardless of anyone’s perception to the contrary. A military veteran having returned home from warfare faces an oft-difficult adjustment period, and PTSD is common. Comedians who incorporate personal tragedy into their work frequently express themselves nakedly to resonate, often uncomfortably, with their audiences. Many of those comedians live on the literal edge, able to express their greatest fears, concerns and joys only in front of a crowd … while finding it difficult to exist outside of the scene.
My point being: The moment you hear those whispers of being different, embrace it. We are different, and at once no different than anyone else who suffers. The underlying causes may differ, but the symptoms are always real to those who experience them.
If you are an insecure artist, and find it difficult being around other people, take courses and go to therapy if you need to, then return to your zone and create.
There is nothing wrong with you. Just do what you need to and work on your craft. That’s our best coping mechanism.
The rewards will come if you don’t give up.
Is a limbless or paralyzed painter who paints with his or her teeth a lesser person somehow than the rest of us?
Or is, as in Beethoven’s case, a deaf composer?
I can go on with the lists but the point is — as I’ve alluded to — the compulsive creative should be listed in the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I am not joking, and there is no stigma attached to my words. As science continues to explore the mechanisms behind the human creative impulse, it has become increasingly apparent of late that biological causes play a substantial role in the uniqueness of the artistic mind.
Those who, like the painter above or Beethoven, continue to express their creativity because there is, in effect, no other choice will always find a way.
Or an exit.
Art is often painful, and it must be managed.
Using No Way, as Way
Others who have excelled, such as athletes outside of what some would consider the artistic realm, have well understood this philosophy:
Can there be any doubt that high-achievers, or even more modestly accomplished achievers, who refuse to give up on their given art because they simply cannot are, perhaps, built differently than the majority?
It has already been proven that the brain chemistry of compulsive creatives mimics that of schizophrenics, as explained via studies as detailed in Madness and the Creative Mind: Not a Dime’s Bit of Difference?
I personally study creativity as I am utterly fascinated by the compulsion of myself and others who cannot stop creating. It is a drug onto itself.
Bruce Lee, as a prime example, did not create his most famous quotes in a vacuum. Lee, filmic and written depictions aside, severely injured his back in 1970 as a result of over-training — not a fight as popularly believed— and was unable to further train for six months. He was told he could never practice the martial arts again. Interestingly, his greatest successes came after he took more careful note of his body and took steps to slowly repair his injuries.
He could not stop moving forward.
Artists in general who cannot give up — and for the sake of ease let’s include martial artists for this purpose — are very much of this ilk. If one cannot give up despite innumerable obstacles, they are indeed a different breed as the practice of the art has become a need as opposed to a want.
It is this group I refer to as disABLED. We share a condition, and that condition enables each and every one of us to reach our potential if we keep on keeping on.
I do not mean to be cute with this wording; the point I do want to punctuate is that all creatives who a) face such obstacles, b) believe themselves to be overly sensitive, emotional or insecure, and/or c) believe themselves to perceive the world differently than others, yet despite it all continue to trod on, do indeed have a very real chance at attaining the farthest of their personal goals.
So many of us have faced financial issues and yet go on because the idea of giving up is anathema to them. So many of us have had relationship issues, and more.
If your art has been the most consistent aspect of your life, never let it go.
To a bit of my own personal journey: My writing has brought me to the depths of financial and relationship despair … yet it is that same art has also saved my ass on more than one occasion. When I was at my lowest point because of my art, I managed to save everything and at times thrive also because of it.
My identity: I’m a writer. Books, screenplays, articles. It’s more than a compulsion, it’s a disABILITY.
I’m able to create, and I just simply do it.
I have no choice.
Beethoven died of cirrhosis of the liver — which has been blamed in part for his other health issues — allegedly due to lead poisoning.
He was miserably unhappy in his lifetime, and yet his work lives on over 200 years later. His work, as the work of so many artists, has changed the global landscape.
Don’t believe me? As I read earlier this year, imagine a world without music, movies, theater, visual art, dance, television, games …
It would be a hell of a thing if suddenly the artists of the world stopped creating.
Never give up and, like Beethoven, let’s continue changing the world.
Thank you for reading.
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