Friday, July 29, 2011

Living the Life of an Artist


I am reading a biography of painter/sculptor Margarett Sargent after just finishing one on Celia Thaxter, poet/painter. I’ve read biographies of artists; Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and many others. I am caught up in the similarities between the artists and even though many of them lived in a time when men ruled the artistic world, these women struggled with their drive to create and to compete in that man’s world, plus go against the dictates or women’s roles in society.

This morning my mind is bubbling over. I totally understand what these women went through and even though women today are accepted as artists, there are some challenges that carry throughout the ages. Women’s major roles are still seen as daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother with everything else coming after that. There is also the added stress that it is necessary for women to work outside the home. For most, art is seen as a hobby, something that can be allowed only after everything else is taken care of.

My own life had been… art depraved. I never took formal training. Upbringing dictated the traditional roles and even though an inside part of me fought that tooth and nail, I basically followed the norm. No one in my family ever cared a hoot about art and few of my friends seemed to have talent. I struggled. I was extremely unhappy. I felt caged.

And yet, even those women who were able, through upper class upbringing or perseverance and talent, to get traditional training and make a name for themselves in the art world, still had some of the same issues that struggling artists suffered. Many were often considered crazy, out of control, and would spend time in sanitariums suffering severe depression… and no one talks about what went on there.
Today the term, “Selling your soul to the devil” came to mind and I thought, that as artists, we “Sell our Souls to the Muse” and the Muse is a jealous mistress. (I always see the Muse as female.) When she is with us, we have to devote all our attention on her, on our creativity and if we do not give her 100%, she runs off to someone else leaving us feeling betrayed and abandoned. This is why artists spend so much time in solitude to create their works. When the Muse is present, her hold is all consuming until the current pieces of work are finished.

When the artists are released, for the moment, they usually go to the other extreme; from hours and days of solitude to parties and wild abandon. During the process of creating, the artist is tightly wound and with the completed painting, sculpture, or writing, there is an immense amount of energy that is released. At that point, there is freedom until the Muse grabs hold again. Yet, there is freedom on living under the Muse because the artist is allowed to follow the dictates of her heart.
The need to create demands time, time away from family and friends, time when the artist has to choose between the demand of creativity and responsibility and duty to “normal” life. If family is understanding, all is well, but if the family is not supportive, then troubles and arguments arise. This is especially hard on women in their traditional roles of daughters, wives, and mothers. It’s difficult when the Muse has your soul to be able to balance creativity with caring for husbands, children, and older parents.

I know. I sold my soul to the Muse. It can be depressing, cause intense feelings of guilt, and drive wedges in relationships. On the other hand, to be creative brings such extreme joy and happiness. It’s definitely a tight rope walk and every so often, we fall off. Maybe there never can be a real balance between being an artist and having an active family life. We are who we are and we have to do what we do.

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