Help me understand why I'm afraid of creative pursuits
March 9, 2015 3:13 AM   Subscribe

In my heart, I love literature, I love art, I love music...but I think my emotions are sabotaging me from enjoying them?

I'm a writer and I have been for as long as I can remember. Currently I live overseas and I'm a part of the creative community in my host country. However I don't participate in events, listen to music, or read as widely as I'd like to. I think it's because I'm a very emotional person and I don't like for things to trigger sadness or even elation. I feel like my emotions are too extreme and so I keep them under control as much as I can (though honestly this doesn't work well). Honestly this keeps me from writing as much as I want to as well. Or perhaps I'm just not as dedicated to pursuing these things as I should be? Is any of this making sense? Is such common among other creatives? I imagine so, and I imagine this is the reason a lot of creative people drink and do drugs, just to keep their emotions at bay. How do I deal with it so I can embrace my creativity?
posted by Cybria to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy can be helpful for learning how to inhabit your emotions without completely losing control.

But off the cuff, it sounds like you are putting pressure on yourself to be creative and produce work, and this pressure can create a negative atmosphere for art.
posted by deathpanels at 5:11 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good art invariably does trigger an emotional response. The best art will help you navigate a way through that emotion to whatever's on the other side.

Ultimately, it sounds like you aren't afraid of art as much as of losing control. Perhaps it might help if you see art as a controlled loss of control-- a way to release emotion in a planned and foreseen way. In classical times, the Greeks referred to this as catharsis.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:04 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can recommend the book 'Art & Fear' by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It's a fairly short book that covers precisely this sort of area of difficulty.
posted by sobarel at 7:15 AM on March 9, 2015

Some tough love from a creative: if you don't write, you are not a writer. Simple as that. I used to date someone who called himself a writer, but he had never written anything. It was all in his head. Unless you get the words out of your head and on to paper (or screen), it doesn't count. I've also known musicians who claimed they couldn't play unless they had had something to drink. Mostly this was an excuse to get drunk and nothing to do with music or creativity. Sit down, put on a song, and write. That is all there is to it.

Less tough love: listen, I am a creative and I live off my creativity. I know all about fear and how easy it is not to do anything - your brain will give you a tonne of reasons why it's easier not to create. My personal demon is how nothing I create will ever measure up to the ideal version in my head. When I get a visit from that particular thought, I sit down and play. I doodle and I play around with scraps of art material. And then I get on with things. Months later I will look back at things I made and wonder why I ever found them troublesome and imperfect.

In conclusion, I'm going to give you the single best piece of advice I've ever received. Butt, meet chair.
posted by kariebookish at 7:55 AM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think it's because I'm a very emotional person and I don't like for things to trigger sadness or even elation.
Art is going to trigger sadness and/or elation, often in the same painting, or in the same paragraph. That's it's job. If you're not wanting to get swung by beauty, I'm thinking you're going to have troubles in the creative life.

I feel like my emotions are too extreme and so I keep them under control as much as I can (though honestly this doesn't work well).
Yeah, that control thing again here. You would hate to go to a museum with me, or a heavy movie or a play followed by conversation afterwards. Art blows me clean out of my shoes, and I love getting blown clean out of my shoes, and I love to talk about it, and take energy from it. It gives so, so much.

I wrote that "you're going to have troubles in the creative life." and that's probably not true. Your behaviors would cause me to have troubles in it, but you can find your way, no doubt. Who were those famous sisters that were poets, and no one knew til after finding their papers after their death -- you can bet they held things close to the vest, yet they found their way, created real beauty to leave behind them, none of them knowing about it at all, not knowing at all that they'd given us so much.

I guess I'm saying that you've got to find your way. And if your way feels too pinched, hang out with a madman such as myself for a while, which will cause you real pain maybe but might open you out to being more receptive of beauty.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Art is going to trigger sadness and/or elation, often in the same painting, or in the same paragraph. That's it's job.

Agree. I'd also suggest reading TS Eliot's "Tradition & The Individual Talent" in which TSE writes very well about art as a catalyst and about dealing wih the artist's emotions.
posted by kariebookish at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think about this a lot, and realize that our brain always takes the path of least resistance when anything seems remotely threatening. When you realize that the fear is simply there to keep you in stasis, you have to move forward and get into a habit of being creative when the fear strikes. You'll eventually build endurance from exercising that creative muscle. Consider that the beauty of what you will produce will be superior to that fear, and you'll find it so silly that you ever gave up your power in the first place.
posted by yueliang at 11:56 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm going to disagree with some of the above responses. I don't think art has to trigger strong emotions. That's not its only possible purpose, and even art that may have been created to do this will be doing other things as well, and you can choose how to engage with it.

I identify with what you are saying. Personally I rarely listen to music, and I can't understand how people can have it on in the background, because it so often triggers very extreme emotional reactions in me. I can't deal with that all day every day (although perhaps pushing through it and continuing would lead to desensitization?)

But you can also engage with art on a technical, reflective, intellectual level, which is what I prefer to do. That's not "doing it wrong" any more than people who appreciate art purely emotionally are "doing it wrong".

I think with creative writing, the way to do this would be to take formal classes, or use workbooks with very technical writing exercises that make you think about the structure and form of your writing. And to choose content that you don't have a personal reaction to.

Eventually if you want to make art that is compelling to readers/viewers/hearers, you'll have to engage with their emotions as well, but I think technically accomplished creative people can do that without necessarily getting overwhelmed themselves. As a silly example, think about a horror or thriller writer: they are producing something that will cause extreme reactions in their readers, but it doesn't mean they will be at all frightened while they are writing it themselves.
posted by lollusc at 7:21 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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