“Pictures unpainted make the heart sick.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently. It’s from Self-Portrait, an autobiography by the British artist, Celia Paul. (An amazing, intimate and beautiful book about a talented, fascinating, and extraordinarily candid artist). I read the book a few years ago, but the quote came back to mind because of a friend I reconnected with recently.
An old elementary school buddy, Joey Favino, reached out to me after reading my novel, Fade Away. (Turns out writing a book is a great way to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances!) Anyway, Joey sent me a long email catching me up on his life -- which had even more of the twists and turns and bouncing around than most of us. It was also quite hilarious (I kinda think Joey ought to write a novel or an autobiography), but what really stuck with me was toward the end where he said, “Maybe you know that as a kid I wanted to be an artist, and deep inside that's really all I've ever wanted to be.”
Joey’s pretty much living the life of an artist now. (Check out his website at www.jfwoa.com. His art is really beautiful and totally unique -- see the piece at the top of this blogpost!) But it took him a long, long time to get there. And as a 54 year-old first-time author, I guess I can kind of relate. In fact, a major theme of my book (and something Joey definitely picked up on and related to) is the damage that can be done by suppressing creativity.
So why do we tend to bottle it up when we “become adults”? And why does it take so long for many of us to embrace or even recognize creative passions?
Some of it is probably just garden-variety insecurity. It’s scary to put yourself out there -- whether through writing or painting or piano-playing. But I also think we are generally discouraged from seriously pursuing creative fields. I’m not saying this is true of everyone or every situation, and you could certainly argue that if Joey or I had been more committed we would have found a way to pursue our passions, but I think the system is rigged against that. There’s a lot of pressure to pursue things that are practical, well-paying, in-demand. Hence the current obsession with STEM subjects. Now, I have no problem with math and science and all that. In fact, one of my kids is studying civil engineering and has an almost romantic relationship with bridges, tunnels, and waste-water systems, as well as a flat-out fetish for concrete. But we don’t really want everyone to be an engineering geek or a lab rat, do we?
There’s another quote from Franz Kafka (one of my faves!) that relates to this topic. I actually used it in my book.
“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
Same idea as Celia Paul’s quote, but a little harsher and more Kafka-like -- and more in line thematically with my book. And it really emphasizes the damage done by constantly tamping down or ignoring that creative impulse.
To be clear, I'm not saying that every person secretly wants to be an artist (like Joey) or that the only way to live a happy and fulfilling life is to do things that are traditionally thought to be "creative." There are as many different passions as there are people, and personally I believe there is a lot of creativity involved in doing things that aren't typically considered "creative" --like engineering or logistics or home renovation. But I also believe that there are a lot of closet creatives out there who could use a little encouragement. So if you've been ignoring that creative urge, take this as a push to get out and paint or sculpt or play that instrument or write that poetry or do whatever it is you have inside of you. Let that shit out! It might just make you a happier, healthier, more whole person … and it could even resonate with someone else, too.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think, and of course feel free to totally disagree!
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