The Cost of Creativity

When we pull back the pretensive cover of appearance, writing and art-making—and all the reading, planning, editing, and contemplating that both precedes and accompanies such activities—we find thievery, struggle, and dissimulation. We writers and artists steal time from our relationships and lives to invest in fantasies, aesthetic objects, and intellectual curiosities. We struggle with the words, the explanations, the descriptions, the materials, the processes, and—chief of all—we struggle with why. And we dissimulate with style: behold this poem, this essay, this painting, this film, this text whatsoever… Its birth had a cost that you will never understand, and we, or at least I, do not fully comprehend the expense either. You see only what we have abandoned, not the life and troubles that bore it out.

I’ve heard some say they had no choice, they simply had to go to the studio, they were compelled to the study, drawn to the work. Yet, such is a lie. The truth—in addition to whatever that word conveys in all its polyvalence—is that the work has a cost and paying that cost is a choice. If it were not, then art is a creative addiction in need of rehabilitation. Being an act of will—a decision—however, means we owe our friends and loved ones near endless streams of heartfelt apologies. Time and again we choose the work over them, not because we have to, but because it is important to us. More important than them? If time signals the commodity of mortality, upon what do we spend it?

A tough question for anyone.

To deal with this issue, and the ones related to or caused by it, some like to call it a job in order to justify the time set aside to pursue and perfect the art. Yet, for most, though definitely not all, it is the hope and promise—the dream—of our art becoming our job, moneywise, that in part drives us. A few achieve this, most do not. The majority teach, wait tables, and sell shit. The point lies with the cost of creativity. What we do, don’t do, put on hold, rush, skip, forget, remember, love, loathe: everything subject to the god of our creative eros.

As I spent some time reading Heraclitus this morning, and was transitioning to do some painting, I paused to look over a manuscript in it’s third year of production. As I perused the chapters, I heard my daughter crawling on the wooden floor, laughing to herself. I was taken back to what I’d just been reading earlier (and have read countless times before): “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” And I knew explicitly in that moment something I’ve always known, something lying within all the work and all the work surrounding the work: being a good person, especially to the ones we love, is very difficult when you are trying to give yourself over to creativity. Or, art is a fetch-giving thief. It takes and replaces what it takes with something else

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