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“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” ― Frida Kahlo

Category: Philosophy

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The daily dread of being judged, of being measured and found lacking in some way, no matter how small, was a burden she carried, compact and profound. It was a too-heavy purse, worn and comfortable on her shoulder, which she did not know the weight of until she set it down.
Lynda Cohen Loigman

To be faithful, to be fruitful… | #AdviceToWriters

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Be Faithful To Your Perceptions

It’s not that you get a cliché and then wiggle it about or use synonyms. You don’t take an ordinary decorative paragraph and give it style. What you’re trying to do is be faithful to your perceptions and transmit them as faithfully as you can. I say these sentences until they sound right. There’s no objective reason why they’re right. They just sound right to me.

MARTIN AMIS

#AdviceToWriters

Majesty and Meekness | The Myth of the Tortured Artist

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Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo

While writing my next article on the introduction of TEXTALYSERs in Australia (this is due to high mobile-phone related deaths on the road), I naturally gravitated towards tangents whenever possible (self-indulgent I know), which brought me to reference the ‘tortured artist‘ myth. I did a bit of a gooble (pronounced GOO-BELLED – the portmanteau of google and stumble… I’m not sure if it works as well out of my head as it did in *cheeky sigh of resign* I tried…

Perhaps goobling this article was meant to be? I think being a tortured artist, as I wrote in my interview with the renowned artist and loving father Gav Barbey; is a great sales pitch with potent ROI if governed by a steady sense of self and proportion.

Gav is a Painter, Film Maker, Sculptor, Fine Art Artist (he was trained at the prestigious NIDA) and a writer. “The ‘tortured artist’ thing adds to this drama – it’s a great sales pitch, isn’t it?” I have to agree, as an artist myself, it does concocts a mysterious and dangerous element to an otherwise romantic and established medium of presenting life as we know it with life as we wish to see it.

You can watch Gav’s enriching Tedx Talk here: How to draw like a child | Gav Barbey | TEDxUniMelb

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“These rituals around Artists are a bit funny.” I ask him if everyone is an artist; “This argument has been held in deep discussion since day dot. The word “art” has fucked everyone – art is decorative. Art is decorative to push an emotional understanding to the masses.” Gav maintains Picasso was just having fun, not reveling in his torturery but enjoying the freedom to move from style to style which is something we shun now. Pigeonholing is a key factor to the slow financial progress of the Artist. “This is what Picasso is saying: I want to experiment! He knew a lot of disciples and that translated as his best work.”

‘Tortured’ is a strong word… maybe we’re all ‘indecisive artists’,’confused’, ‘perplexed’, ‘vexed’ or just plain ‘not-happy-jan‘. Whatever you call yourself, the myth of the tortured artist is one of intrigue with many insights into the world of creativity and chaos.


I did not write this article. All credits go to Huffington Post + writer Christopher Zara.

 


The Myth of the Tortured Artist — and Why It’s Not a Myth

06/18/2012 03:46 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2012
  • Christopher Zara Media, Culture, and Arts Journalist
  • It’s always been my belief that all great art comes from pain. Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in emotional torment; Lennon and McCartney forged their creative partnership following the death of their respective mothers; Milton pennedParadise Lost after losing his wife, his daughter, and his eyesight. Such unremitting grief would send even the most grounded among us into a frenzied Xanax binge and associated fetal position, but these celebrated artists chose not to recoil in passive suffering. Instead, they turned their sorrow into something the world would cherish.

     

    The idea of the tortured artist has long been debated in our culture, but to me it always seemed a self-evident truth. Art is a reflection of humanity, and humanity’s greatest virtue is its ability to overcome adversity. Why shouldn’t that same adversity inspire our greatest art? In fact, it’s a topic that fascinates me so much, I wrote a book about it, aptly titled Tortured Artists, which takes an admiring yet irreverent look at the link between creative genius and personal adversity. Did you know that Picasso nearly died in an earthquake at the age of three? Or that Frankenstein was inspired by a volcanic eruption? Or that Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse as an act of revenge?

     

    Although my book approaches the subject matter in a fun way, it centers on a weighty idea: the idea that suffering does not happen in vain. Van Gogh may have suffered from anxiety, absinthe addiction, and debilitating seizures, but his suffering gave him insight, and that insight, in turn, gave the world a new kind of art called Post-Impressionism. Such poetic symmetry is enough to convince even the stodgiest fatalist that the universe is not as cold and random as we perceive it to be, which is why I’ve always found the notion of tortured artists so appealing.

     

    But not everyone shares my zeal. In fact, the more I speak about tortured artists at author events and in interviews, the more I realize what a polarizing topic it actually is. Some folks seem to consider the primary thesis in Tortured Artists — that pain is a requirement for producing great art — a biased assessment of the creative process.

    However, I never claimed that art cannot be produced without suffering, only that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good. Why? Because the central function of an artist is to convey an idea. That idea can be visceral or intellectual; it can be conveyed through a painting, a song, a poem, or a guy dancing around in a moose costume. The method doesn’t matter. Artists, both brilliant and hackneyed, create out of the same basic desire to communicate. But it’s we art lovers who invest our attention, our time, in their creations. Why should we invest in a work of art that was created without conflict, or struggle, or pain? Where is the challenge?

     

    Of course, I always knew there would be people who wouldn’t buy the tortured-artist concept, but what I find most surprising is that the people who are least likely to subscribe to the idea also happen to be artists themselves. Indeed, many creative types are simply fed up with what they see as a baseless falsehood perpetuated by romantic tales of Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out and Sylvia Plath putting her head in the oven. In a 2011 interview, the indie rocker Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame, called the concept of the tortured artist a “damaging mythology,” one that impeded his own battles with addiction, anxiety, and depression.

     

    And Tweedy is not alone in his hostility. In speaking publicly about tortured artists, I’ve been accused of suggesting that drug addicts are better off high and the mentally ill should not seek help, if only because such impediments, by my estimation, help them produce better art. But calling John Belushi one of the greatest comic performers of the 1970s is not the same as condoning his excessive drug use. Even if we ignore the fact that few performers were not on drugs in the 1970s, we needn’t see Belushi’s brutal addiction as having caused his talent. Rather, it was a symptom of the same insatiable void that drove his need to perform. You might say that void tortured Belushi; you might also say it’s what made him great.

     

    So why, then, are so many artists still turned off by the tortured-artist concept? For some, I suspect, it simply hits too close to home. Consider the wedge it creates between two fundamental desires: the desire to be happy versus the desire to produce great art. The stereotype of the tortured artist as a long-suffering creative genius suggests that those two states are mutually exclusive — and that’s an unsettling thought for anyone who practices a creative craft. But even those of us who don’t have the wherewithal to choose between happiness and being a great artist can take comfort in knowing that the former is within our grasp. Let’s leave the suffering to the geniuses. It’s what they do.

    Further reading:

    Scientists: The ‘Tortured Artist’ Is a Real Thing via Mental Floss

    Notice Me? | #AdviceToWriters

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    You Get Ideas All the Time

     

    You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

    NEIL GAIMAN

    #AdviceToWriters

    Please (Me) | #AdviceToWriters

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    The Secret of Short-Story Writing

    I’ll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is:

    Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2.

    The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.

    O. HENRY

    #AdviceToWriters

    Too Busy…

     

     

     

    Perhaps the most vital things for the writer to describe, Baldwin argues, are the habitual ways in which we imprison ourselves and relinquish our own freedom.

    *

    “Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”

    James Baldwin

     

    Self-Respect in Retrospect | Spotlight on Joan Didion

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    For the past half-century, Joan Didion (b. December 5, 1934) has been dissecting the complexities of cultural chaos with equal parts elegant anxiety, keen criticism, and moral imagination. From her 1968 anthology of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (public library), comes “On Self Respect” — a magnificent meditation on what it means to live well in one’s soul, touching on previously explored inadequate externalities like prestige, approval, and conventions of success.

    Didion writes:

    The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.

    To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.

    […]

    Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.

     

    Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.

    […]

    Self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.

    […]

    To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meting the next demand made upon us.

    It is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘alienation from self.’ In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.

    Thought and Therapy | #AdviceToWriters

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    Confront the Dark Parts of Yourself

    Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.

    AUGUST WILSON

    #AdviceToWriters

    Posing | Spotlight on Emily Sernaker

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    Emily Sernaker’s “A Woman Is Apologizing” appeared earlier this week on the Ms. Blog. Here’s another stunning poem she wrote for the Los Angeles Times: http://lat.ms/1T1JSGE

    *Shared from Ms. Magazine

    The Process | #WonderingOnWednesday‬

    Sometimes we ‘show are own ass’ without any provoking. It’s in those moments I worry: ‘what they think I am is what I’m showing them in this moment’.

    This is easy to do when I become too comfortable with what I am praying (convicting/proclaiming/training) for. I don’t need others’ distractions because I can draw into myself as if sliding off a seat – mechanical and intentional.

    I want to trust the process.

    #WonderingOnWednesday