The Writhing Artist

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

Living to geezer-hood is pretty cool, mostly. Once you adapt to the usual failings that are natural partners of old age, once you settle into a good place with it, there’s lots of time to consider bigger issues.

Like, what about all those crazy artists? The writers, painters, sculptors, and an endless litany of other artisans? Why are so many of them just nuts, at least to the rest of the world? Why are most of them way out of whack with the common social universe?

Let me define the term a bit. I’m thinking about those individuals who don’t merely pursue art, who don’t simply love it and have a special talent, but who chase their art form throughout their lives. Those who just seem to be from another planet in the day-to-day world of routine-ness. I’m thinking about those people who would simply cease to exist without their art.

You probably know at least one of these creatures. I know that I’ve met many over the years. They live complicated lives, in their heads and hearts. There’s nothing simple or easy about the path they’ve chosen, or been driven toward. They spend much of their time in a peculiar world of pain reserved for only them and those of their ilk.

See if these qualities and quirks fit your definition as well as they fit mine.

Out of sync. The artist can’t keep rhythm to the marching music no matter how hard he or she tries. Usually, they don’t even hear the same music. Maybe they were born old, maybe they just can’t grow up. Their dance steps are all out of whack and you just can’t help noticing it when you meet them. The more time you spend with the artist, the more profoundly you realize they are always just a little out of focus, walkers out of time and place. They don’t have to work at this kind of uniqueness. This brand of un-sync-ability comes naturally. Most of them don’t thrive on the difference. In fact, they are usually not comfortable with it. Doesn’t matter. They are just out of whack with the world. They were born to their fate, or so it seems.

Emotional blender people. Artists are emotional beings, even when they’re not trying to express those emotions. Usually, the quiet ones are the worst. They are constantly awash in emotional themes, strong opinions, reactions, feelings, and sensibilities. Their emotional engines are constantly running at the red line maximum, even when they haven’t spoken a word in two weeks. If you have an artist as a friend or lover, you know this too well. You can feel it around them, encircling their life and often spilling over into yours. It’s the ham in their sandwich, the fuel in their engine, and it’s mostly uncontrollable even when it’s not expressed.

Halloween in New York

Socially maladjusted. Sure, there are exceptions to this little observation. But, not too many. Artists don’t usually do well socially. They tend to live at the extremes of social behavior. They may be flamboyant or just as easily become complete, speechless wall-flowers. Sometimes they are both in the space of five minutes. What they cannot do is get into the social rhythm of the reigning group of the moment. For whatever reason, they fail to put their square peg in your round hole. This is mostly unconscious. Many of them take to this mantle of awkwardness because, well, they just feel downright awkward in most social situations. They know it’s a threat to their otherwise semi-controlled, partially understood view of the world. But they just don’t know how to make themselves a part of the stage play. Secretly, they just want to go home or back to the studio and do their art. After all, that’s what life is all about anyway.

This side up. Yep, they’re fragile, these artists. Sometimes, very fragile. They remain vulnerable because they’re always listening and waiting for their muse, because their world is one of extreme colors, sounds and textures. They are an open door, even when they’ve shut themselves away from the world. Approach carefully or, if it suits, stay away until you have that invitation in hand. They can be easily damaged and remain in a critical state for years on end. Tread lightly, please.

Mouth malfunctioning. The artist is usually not a great orator. In fact, he or she will often be a master at putting hoof to mouth, stirring up doo-doo, and generally making comments or observations where they just aren’t needed. Remember the emotional component? Well, hoof-to-mouth has a lot to do with letting passions get ahead of sensible speech for most artists. They have an affinity for ignoring the most important conversations or interjecting silliness or randomness into otherwise “normal” exchanges. There is only one exception to the rule. Artist-to-artist conversations work perfectly. From an outsider’s point of view, the conversation may seem disjointed and nonsensical. To the artists inside the conversation, everything makes perfect sense. They are held together by a common passion and unspoken drive that has always been reserved for just them.

Love or hate. The true artist cannot leave you untouched once you get to know them, even a little. You will either love them or hate them. Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong. You will either find them interesting or you’ll just want to avoid them the rest of your days. They can easily grab you with their own passion and just as quickly give you a headache with their screwy ideas, inappropriate behavior, and disjointed view of your normalized world. The artist knows this also. In fact, the artists I’ve known often secretly fret about their unique ability to polarize the world around them. Some thrive on it, sometimes, but most wish there were an easier way, for them and you. It’s the nature of the beast.

The Old Man and the Sea

Head and heart lock-down. They’re locked inside themselves, these artisans and miscreants. They’re working from the inside-out while most of the world is doing things in a more civilized way. Their hearts are beating overtime, their brains are often on fire, they are in artist lock-down mode. They rarely come up for air. In many cases, they never escape the lock-down, not for an entire lifetime. That’s the central soul of their art and they dare not stray too far from their personal prison. If they should escape, the world outside would not suit anyway.

Happy or not. At some level, most are happy only when they are creating. The rest of the time is spent in discomforts small and great. It’s only in those moments of pure creativity, their tools in hand, their hearts and minds completely absorbed, are they truly happy. The rest of the time is spent trying to get to that secret place again and again.

So, do you know someone like this? Someone who is a true artist, born to run that race and only that race? You probably do. The next time you stumble across him or her, take a breath and a big patience pill. The world needs these artists and so do you.

If you can put up with the true artist you may have a friend or lover for life. They can give you that special kind of attachment reserved only for the artist. It’s passionate, determined, meaningful and usually forever.

They can just as easily drive you crazy, just like them.

2 thoughts on “The Writhing Artist

  1. This article is exactly something a guy like myself needs to read. At times, I often feel that I fit most of these statements–for better or for most likely the worst. I’m reminded of myself as I work my new job. As mentally unfulfilled as I am I am often finding myself day dreaming as I work. Suddenly I slow my pace, lose track of what I’m doing– lose myself in some fantastic story–and stay there until the boss takes notice. A couple of stern words later and I’m snapped out of my day dream, plucked from pleasurable pasture and then flicked like wasted dust back towards my own banal reality, I mutter under my breath, begging myself to be the efficient hard-worker that everyone else seems to be; that I am expected to emulate. But then I just start dreaming again. I don’t mean to day dream…I’ve got the hard-worker part…and I suppose I am efficient–efficient at dreaming…efficient at making beautiful thoughts even during the hardest of labors.

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