“The great art of life is sensation – to feel that we exist, even though in pain.”
Lord Byron (1788 – 1824)
By Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I my self am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind;
He learned but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer, that put’st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:
He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.
I am conflicted by the idea that art can only come from a well-spring of great experience, be it love or tragedy in spades. I think sometimes art can come equally from the mundacity of life as well. However, I recognize that artists have their own favorites when it comes to their creations. I feel more strongly about some of my poems than others, and specific poems stand out in my mind because they become in my memory like a snapshot of a key event. It would be an interesting thing to discuss with artists, what shaped the creation of your favorite piece of art and to see whether there is a common thread of experience?
There is no denying that a certain amount of ego and impulsiveness is required to be an artist. The creative process, if it is to be shared with others, requires at some point that an artist must get naked in public metaphorically speaking. The quesiton each artist must answer is how much skin to bare and when does the process of creating art jump the barrier from tasteful nude to pornography because of the severity of what is depicted?
It is an interesting question, the idea that art can be pornographic in a graphic sense of how much our interior is revealed. The list of artists who were (are) tortured souls is nearly as long as the list of artists, but I am not convinced that unhappiness, depression, addiction and suicide are a requirement for creativity or the creation of great art. I think creativity can come equally from love, joy, sanity and modesty. But for some, the lighter side of the human experience is not nearly as productive personally. As a rule I know the art I am most attracted imparts an emotion or an idea regardless of whether it is positive or negative.
I think there is a certain lurid fascination with the artist who becomes a Phoenix, bursting into flame mid-flight. Those artists who share their doomed voyage either in spite of their art or who choose to use their art as a legacy of their descent. My preference however, is for artists, who singe their wings but do not implode or explode and manage to land safely enough to preserver.
Circling back one last time, for now, to Wilco, I found this short interview with Jeff Tweedy talking about the idea of a tortured artist and his own struggles. In the end, I think it all depends, like Shakespeare says above, on whether you can separate art from the artist and the idea; “Him have I lost, thou hast both him and me.”
Slyvia Plath usually makes the short list in any discussion of tortured artists. I have found it interesting how my respect for Sylvia Plath’s writing has grown as I have spent more time writing poetry. But I also have a healthy aversion to her work, reading her in small doses and infrequently.
I don’t agree with Sylvia’s last couplet in her sonnet below. I am often attracted to poems where my level of disagreement is strong, when the poem sets off an internal debate. I think of time as a continuous piece of paper before us and a millions words trailing behind.
How do you intrepet Sylvia Plath’s sonnet below?
Sonnet: To Time
By Sylvia Plath
Today we move in jade and cease with garnet
Amid the ticking jeweled clocks that mark
Our years. Death comes in a casual steel car, yet
We vaunt our days in neon and scorn the dark.
But outside the diabolic steel of this
Most plastic-windowed city, I can hear
The lone wind raving in the gutter, his
Voice crying exclusion in my ear.
So cry for the pagan girl left picking olives
Beside a sunblue sea, and mourn the flagon
Raised to toast a thousand kings, for all gives
Sorrow; weep for the legendary dragon.
Time is a great machine of iron bars
That drains eternally the milk of stars.