Creativity is quite possibly the greatest gift we have been given in this existence. It brings us closer to magic than most other experiences in the physical world and many of us go through life solely in pursuit of it. It is also a gift which historically, from the Van Gogh’s to the Sylvia Plath’s of the world, has taught its recipients to believe it is the norm to act indebted to creativity. Like its presence in your life is a burden and that one must suffer to be worthy of all its prosperity. That no good art can come if you are not experiencing destruction. Enter, the Tortured/Tormented/Starving Artist.
“Since when did creativity become a suffering contest?”
I have been thinking about the Tortured Artist a lot recently, in wake of creating and publishing The Earth Issue of Hook Magazine. It’s a stereotype so woven into our social conditioning, I realised that I often bow to it’s narrative more than I ever knew.
The night before The Earth Issue went to print, I found myself in a state of panic. I was riddled with imposter syndrome because I had planned to get a good night’s sleep rather than staying up, making tweak after tweak in quest for the perfect issue. It only occurred to me after I’d moaned to my boyfriend about how guilty I felt for not choosing to slave away at my computer all night long, that actually, I don’t have to participate in the Tortured Artist narrative. Actually, I’ve worked hard to have my shit, mostly, in order and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for choosing a path of creative ease. I have come a long way since running around Shepherds Bush with £1000 in cash in my bag to pay my printing bill, on the eve of The Tarot Issue’s print deadline and staying in Costa Coffee until 11pm every night because I didn’t have internet of my own to now deny myself comfort. That actually, I can re-write my story because I deserve to rest up and go at my own pace because that’s what I’ve been working to achieve over these years.
Throughout the final few weeks of putting together The Earth Issue, upon chance, I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic in my spare time. I cannot advocate enough how helpful that book was to me during my period of high stress creativity. Gilbert gave me the permission to tap out of the Tortured Artist story. I do not need to sacrifice my health, sanity, happiness at the expense of my art. Obviously there is of a certain impetus belonging to sadness; pain and suffering being feelings we so often need the most comfort for, to which art can provide. But believing that this is the only way art can be made, is a story I do not choose going forwards. There is enough legitimate suffering in the world - whether that be your own or through society as a whole, to not need to glamorise torment as a symptom of creativity.
“My entire life has been shaped by an early decision
to reject the cult of artistic martyrdom, and instead
to place my trust in the crazy notion that my work loves me
as much as I love it."
Gilbert wrote: “how I choose to handle myself as a writer is entirely my own choice. I can make my creativity into a killing field, or I can make it into a really interesting cabinet of curiosities. I can even make it into an act of prayer. My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness.” Which is to say, your work is just as valid having had a happy conception than one of pain and frustrations if you allow that to be your reality.
If you take the time to think about the many creative journey’s you’ve been on in your life, if you get really honest and really think, I imagine there’s at least a few times where you’ve made your life harder than it needed to be - just for the hell of it. In sole purpose of the struggle validating its existence. Starting a project the night before a deadline or drinking heavy as an excuse to self-loathe. Well here is my permission then, that you don’t need to make your life incessantly harder to achieve great work. You just need to do the work in the first place. It can be tough in a world that rewards the 'hustle/busy/sacrifice' narrative when it comes to work/creativity, but you can choose to rewrite your story. - one that allows you to actually love, not loathe what you do. You might even be surprised to find it loves you back.
Launched only this week, The Earth Issue of Hook Magazine encourages readers to pursue their purpose as a tool for activism and societal consciousness. It is out now to buy worldwide. Order your copy here.