Practical Theory You can't go back again, grieving for the little death, and tristesse, understanding some of the feelings that arise whenever we finish a project.
This is a strange topic to talk about, but if you've ever felt yourself being supported or sustained by a creative endeavor only to suddenly find yourself overcome by a profound sense of sadness or melancholy once you've finished it then congratulations, you've just experienced what the French refer to as tristesse. Or more accurately post-coital letdown as art is the only true sublimation of the sexual energies and since making love to others can be considered an art form all its own . . . its a very European concept okay, and that means it doesn't exactly translate into American sensibilities so if I'm having a hard time describing it its only because the concepts involved can't be understood in an afternoon and have social and cultural antecedents that you need to be aware otherwise the whole things sounds like complete and total gibberish and I've had more then a few people turn into prudes on me at the mere mention of the word sex. Which I find to be unbelievably odd since artists have been creating images of naked people since the dawn of time but its only when the idea of sex enters into the equation that it sudden becomes distasteful but again, every culture has its own ideas about what constitutes a tasteful depiction of human sexuality and what crosses the boundary into pornography, but that's a discussion for another time. Now because the creative process involves elevating our energies to a point where we achieve a transcendental state of awareness . . . well, technically you can also use various emotional states to achieve this effect its just not something I personally would recommend as emotions tend to be either highly volatile or notoriously unstable and the rate at which they decay is fairly rapid, meaning that while its a slow and steady climb to the top, coming down is nothing short of terminal velocity. And often involves face planting into a gravel driveway, but the really painful part hasn't happened yet, oh no, we haven't even begun to grieve for the little death. You see human beings typically operate on what's called an emotionally consistent narrative, our ideas about ourselves, our sense of self and our identity, all of it is formed by the things we've seen along with the things we've experienced, that means when we survive years of systematic abuse or traumatic events, we come to identify with those things in a way that serves to seperate us from others, distinguishes us from them, and worst of all comes to define us in a way that all but legitimizes our pain. You see one of the most terrible questions we inevitably ask ourselves when we seek to reconcile our past with the future that we wish to create is, who am I? Am I the sum total of the events that have served to shape my outlook on life, or am I what others have tried to make me into? Because when we take away all the things we once ascribed to ourselves, the negative, unwanted, and deleterious aspects of our pasts, we often find that without them, there isn't much of us left. And what is more, saying goodbye to all of those things means not only separating our selves from all the various times and places that have become familiar to us, along with the old or outdated patterns that have previously served to define us, but the comfort and security that being entrenched in misery affords us. Don't believe me, look at the life and history of almost any character in adult fiction, more often then not, they suck, they suck hard. And while the feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing that no matter how bad your life is, at least there's someone out there who's worse off, is a game that far too many of us are taught how to play, the fact that a lot of art operates on this basic principle is terrifying to me. But hey, sex and violence sells, so why not pity-porn? Because, to be quite frank, the whole point of narrative agency is to show people a way out of misery, not just leave them wallowing in it! But that's just one of the dangers inherent in being an artist, as the time spent building a relationship with our work is time we aren't spending engaged with the rest of the world. Which means the characters we come to know, the places we learn to visit, not only do they become intimately familiar to us, but in so many ways they can be more real to us then the world we find ourselves living in. And even when those same worlds are at their worst, we still have a sense of control, an essential agency that allows us to transform negative and unwanted events into meaningful experiences. But the price we pay for this however, is that we can't go back again. Once we close the door to those worlds, we can never open them again. Once we write the words the end, time moves on and we are forever changed. The friends we knew, the love that we felt, the tears that we shed, each in turn becomes part of the past, and we in turn grieve for the little death, for the loss of all that we knew, and all we're afraid may never come again. I've heard it said time and again that artists offer up a part of themselves, some might say the best part of themselves, in exchange for the ability to traverse those other worlds, to stand upon the threshold of creation and bear witness to the death of worlds, to the rise of heroes and the fall of legends, and that the heart can only hold so much, can only say goodbye so many times, before it finally gives up or gives in. To which I say that all artists set themselves upon a path and in the process of walking it find themselves being transformed by it. So is it any wonder that some part us would refuse to come back? To a world that fears us, denies us, misunderstands our every intent? No, because those parts of us that separate are not the best parts of us, but the ones we were unable to protect, the ones we couldn't keep safe, and had to find again. To become an artist means reclaiming all that has been lost while growing up, while growing into the people we were always meant to be, and while we grieve for the wonders we have seen, we know that the world is far larger then it seems and that means learning to let those wonders live again, even if only in memory.
Wow, I really let myself wax poetic there didn't I? Sorry for the mood whiplash folks, but its tough trying to separate one's own experiences with the creative process from any specific example that could otherwise be used to identify people from my past. After all, if one of the primary rules of being an artist involves keeping your self separate from a work, just think about what happens when you start to involve the egos of other people. Actually, don't do that as the psychological phenomena involved is what creates the kind of psychic impression commonly referred to as a stereotype, and since history is so often preserved in the minds of people the emotional rift left in the collective unconscious can then form an unstable emotional association that allows us to attribute all manner of ills to those who often had nothing to do with them, but hey what else are memetic legacies for am I right? Ah, I'm talking all sciency and stuff again, but seriously, finishing a large or long term project is in many ways like ending a relationship, some of them are clean separations with no hard feelings on either side, and some of them are drop down drag out screaming matches with resentment all around. And then the feelings of betrayal and the unfulfilled expectations that arise when we realize the full costs that were involved. Yeesh! Take my word for it folks, people don't have a hard time finishing things because they're difficult but because they already know what's waiting for them on the other side and either they're terrified that they're going to get the short end of the stick, or they fear finding out that they've made a bad bargain and they can't get their investment back. But just like any relationship, if you can't actually commit to it, then chances are you're only using it to satisfy some mental, emotional or physical need. And finding out what those are and how to meet them in a healthy way tends to make us much more effective artists all ways around, so until next time folks, have a good day.
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21 October 2016 at 15:58:41 MDT
Practical Theory, an artist's guide to understanding the hidden world of art, is a blog in which I'll be discussing all the weird, strange and semi-mystical things I've encountered while researching the emergent principles inherent in the transdisciplinary nature of art. So if you've ever wondered why art works the way it does, or if your just a fan of seeing if words can be weaponized in a way that can make people's head explode, check it out!