Health, Art and Conformity

Fear versus Love

This morning I read this New York Times article about artists and addiction.

Most of it discusses writers yet writers and visual artists share similar characteristics. They both require an inordinate amount of alone time to hone skills. They both also appear to be considered ‘cool’ if they are successful but ‘crazy’ if they are not. Both are known for their ‘addiction’ to their work and the sacrifices they’ve made for their work. In the case of visual artists, they are not often known to be ‘nice’ people. Many artists consider themselves as ‘individualists’ yet they conform to the idea of being an artist – whether it’s through the style of their art, the clothing they wear or the use of drugs and alcohol. It’s ironic that the rebellious artists often rebel in the same manner of other rebellious types – they are conforming to an expectation – not truly walking to their own drum. So often they also seem miserable.

Perhaps the idea of a tortured, unconventional drug addicted creative fits the idea of how an artist should be to many people. Personally, I think drug abuse and alcohol abuse are adolescent behaviors. When you’re a teenager, you have little responsibility and you’re in the peak of health. It’s easy to drink too much and feel fine the following day. I did my fair share of foolish things (ie. pot, drugs, alcohol) as a teen and frankly don’t believe they contributed to any profound insights. Honestly, I’m grateful I survived. Adults, adult artists, prioritize their productivity. If you’re hung over, feeling like trash and exhausted – you’re not putting your best effort into your art. Drawing and painting with any precision just isn’t improved with alcohol or drugs. If you’re into scribble, fine – get wasted and enjoy. If you have an image you’re attempting to bring forth from nothing – messing up your perceptions is not going to help.

I believe people use mind altering substances for a variety of reasons yet one pervasive reason is fear. They fear their own future, their own abilities, their own thoughts. Our culture fills us with things to fear every moment through the media. Fear is the basis for so much political posturing. Fear is addicting. That rush from hearing about the latest disaster is absolutely physically addicting.

Choosing to focus on love is the greater challenge. Especially during this extended pandemic. Who isn’t tired of the isolation, the lack of social gatherings, the fear of a potentially life limiting illness? Artists, though, have the ability to focus on their creative gifts and bring to life a vision of love. Whether it’s their love of music, their love of painting portraits, or their love of dynamic compositions – creating with one’s entire soul is best done without the burden of a mind altering substance.

Health is a broad concept. It includes our whole self, not just our ‘vital signs’. Being healthy requires dedication to forming habits for a lifetime. Dancing almost daily using the Nia Technique is my way of maintaining physical, spiritual and mental health. Eating delicious foods from the earth, drinking plenty of water, sleeping well and loving life – feeling grateful every single day – are ‘practices’ we all can embrace.

It’s essential that artists are able to express a full range of emotions – that, too, is healthy. We are not always in a fantastic mood. Being healthy means being human. When I express pain, loss and grief, I am still doing it through the lens of love. I feel loss because I have loved. I feel grief because I have loved. Art can transform our emotions – preserve them in amber – allow us to share them – enable us to move beyond them.

Depression is real. It’s a state that limits one’s functioning. I’ve learned so much about it over the years. This pandemic has made me depressed. I’m moving beyond it now. The spring season will bring new life.

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