It never ceases to amaze me just how much we rely on interpretation and assumption to gauge our place in the world. Often we attempt to attach meaning to the mundane, despite the subjective nature of experience. Yet we dare to draw on experience for inspiration when we can hardly trust our own reality at the best of times. There must be a way to test the boundaries of the universe and come to a shared knowledge for universal interaction.
Finding an identity as a creative person can be a bit confusing at times as there are some arbitrary rules that we can learn from the greats who came before us. A common thread I heard about and noticed as I was growing up, was the amount of musicians, writers, and artists who had either suffered for their art, or created art out of suffering. Many times, that which is lost or abandoned by the artist, becomes the product of their creative insight into the human condition. Some might even say that to truly know the heart of reality, we must experience all that reality has to offer. It is through suffering that we understand each other, and only through desire can we discover inspiration.
Another way of looking at the same thing would be to allow oneself to become a vessel for creative energy to inhabit. By abandoning our sense of self and physical placement within an external reality, we allow the ethereal unspoken will of the universe to speak through us. Many artists say that they are a slave to their art, as it dictates the terms and demands obedience from our passive chemistry so that a manifestation of energy can be made. We are nothing but creative conduits tasked with linking the physical world of our shared reality, with a universal energy free from superficial discrepancies.
Whatever the interpretation, there's that common theme of suffering that is woven throughout the artist's work. As if it is a tool in the emotional tool box, like a wrench for an invisible muse to turn and tighten. When I was younger, I naively thought that great art comes from great experience; to have lived and suffered, was to have learned and earned a place in some sort of artistic club. I lacked nuance and understanding about the spectrum of life and how subjectivity can rarely be quantified in order to extract results. Maybe that's what people meant when they referred to growing up…
I've had a relatively good life when I look at it comparatively. I struggle to find any deep suffering that might inspire some meaningful commentary on humanity and the evolution of the universe, as I have fared pretty well so far. In our age of information overload, it doesn't take much to identify our fortunes and dismiss petty difficulties. More often than not, I'm more concerned for the welfare of others who have missed out on the benefits bestowed upon me, than worrying about what's missing in my own life. So you see, there isn't a lot that I can point to as the suffering element in my creative life that could perhaps legitimise my artistic pursuits.
Thus, I would argue that the truth is a lack of legitimacy in all art, at least when measured by the stick of suffering that is often held in such esteem. Ultimately I would prefer to find an honest expression of an experiential universe, than one that has nothing to do with my own life. Just as I wouldn't presume to speak on behalf of anyone else, I wouldn't want to borrow anyone else's tragedy to exploit as my own. Well and good no doubt, but what's the actual point?
I suppose I think about where creative inspiration comes from a fair bit, in order to identify it when it shows up. However, there are some that would attempt to force a circumstance of suffering to invoke inspiration artificially, only to claim it was natural all along. Essentially, I guess a simple way of defining this idea is the notion of hipsters.
There's nothing noble or righteous about pretending to suffer more than is natural to your life, but many do it anyway. Think of all the privileged people in your life who try to act like they're doing it tough; it's so middle class it hurts. It's as if we've been trained to think that suffering is a badge of honour and not something we should want to rid ourselves of. It's also an extremely cultural trait, that I suspect is particularly Australian in a lot of ways, as we Aussies are always afraid to admit our own success. Sometimes I feel like "Tall Poppy Syndrome" was a term invented just for our little continent at the bottom of the world, but I hesitate to be so arrogant.
Perhaps it's a very western thing, to put a bit more of a collective spin on the whole thing. We tend to look down on people who have an easy life and are pleased by the whole thing, like there's a nobility in suffrage. I think there needs to be a comfortable place between these two extremes, even for artists who want to express the meaning they get from their own experiences.
There's no doubt that I have very little to say creatively about what it's like living in a war zone, or as part of a vilified minority. There are elements of our shared reality that I can only begin to imagine, let alone have any authority on. If we measured our suffering against one another, yours may well be more hardcore than mine, so I would never claim to have visited the darkest corners of life either. So how can a fortunate artist ever hope to express meaning and ethereal relevance to others?
The ultimate outcome is relativity and an emotional compression of sorts that provides a communicative perspective. None of us have suffered in the same way, but we have all experienced the world. To varying degrees we have all felt an emotion, whether it be borne of fear or love, most of us can relate to the notion of feeling. It's hard to find a legitimate universal truth, so let's make that the pursuit instead of throwing around our badges of suffering to try and prove how worthy we are. Some of the greatest philosophical discourse of human history has been driven by the search for universal truth, so it's clearly not easy to come by. However, think of all the rich material there to draw on and interpret for meaning and inspiration. This is a noble pursuit, and one that does not require any qualification beyond the act of living a life.
When I was younger and more immature, I bought into the idea that true meaning comes from pain and suffering, be it emotional or physical. I thought every great love song was written so well because that writer had obviously suffered the immense loss of a loved one. Eventually I realised that it was all juvenile naivety and that when I was dumped at the age of fifteen, it meant very little despite feeling as though the world were collapsing. Perhaps that's part of growing up and building an experiential perception of life: the unimportant trappings of the self, give way to a clearer understanding of what really matters.
And I think that could be the key to true inspiration and creative insight. It's only with an informed perspective that our subjective experience of reality can produce harmonised results. With that in mind, it would pay well to know that as I have only lived a portion of my life, I know very little about the reality of our condition. As we are driven further beyond the veil, our understanding becomes such that all we can be sure of, is that we know nothing at all about living.