I despise the idea that in order to make good art, you have to suffer.
Sad art is valid art, but it doesn’t always mean good art. To make art that’s effective and impactful, you have to be restless. There’s gotta be something that makes you restless, something that’s just dying to come out — whether it’s something you want to say, change, do, you’ve just got to be thinking of something.
Everyone’s been sad. I’ve been sad. I’ve made art because of it, and not just dance. I’ve made art to survive the sadness. I’ve experienced sadness for a variety of reasons, from breakups, homesickness, identity crises, fear, anger, and even empathic sadness for a group of oppressed people whom I don’t even know personally. I’ve been having a lot of that kind of sadness lately.
I’ve made art based on all those kinds of sadness because I was restless each time. It’s funny how I’m just noticing now that my most effective and fulfilled works has been works that interacted with the world. It’s not just a recount of some isolated, personal incident (like a breakup, for example), but the grander, more universal human experience behind it.
It’s foolish to think that when you’re an artist, you don’t need to know about the world around you: the people you interact with, the people you walk past on the streets, the history of the places on which you walk, the narratives of lives you’ll never touch — those that are miles away.
A lot of young artists seem to think that just as long as we have feelings, we can make art because art is subjective. Yes, and no. Sure, art is subjective, but we are not the center of the universe, and our art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It interacts with the social, political, economic, and cultural truths around us, whether we like it or not — especially when there’s an audience for our art.
A lot of artists my age seem to think that as long as they have feelings, they can make art, and oftentimes, they equate those feelings to sadness, so they wallow in their sadness to keep the “creative juices flowing,” so to speak. They stay depressed for a prolonged length of time in order to suffer in the name of art.
That’s foolish, and that’s not a sustainable way to make art. Depression is a very real thing, and it’s nothing to glamorize. I’ve spent many days trying to fight off those demons and sadness so it doesn’t consume my life, so that I stay mentally healthy and able to function. I know other people around me with the same demons or even go through worse things. They fight it every single day. It angers me, then, when artists my age think that when they’re sad, they should keep being sad because now they’re part of the sad kids club and no one understands them. So now they’re somehow on a different wavelength than everyone else — a supposedly better one because it’s less crowded.
I don’t for a second doubt the validity or reality of other people’s sadness. That’s not for me to judge. But when many use the cloak of depression to make “good” art, I wonder about what that does to those who are actually depressed, who struggle to get out of bed most days or even think of harming themselves because of their depression, and inexplicably told by people around them to “just get over it” when so-called artists claim the cloak of depression and is enamored for it. Are these artists then appropriating depression to make art? What are the ethics of that?
I lament the fact that so many artists, and particularly artists my age who have only so much life experience to reflect and make art on, think that art is so subjective that the only way to make good art is to sacrifice their mental well-being. Impactful art comes when it effectively communicates the human experience, even if it’s just one sliver of it.
Art is subjective, but it also has the ability to interact with the world around it, and therefore the artists and art-makers should do so too. Go outside, talk to people, read the news, be aware, fight ignorance, learn new things. The world isn’t perfect — there are plenty of things to get restless about. So get mad, get confused, get happy, and get sad. Make art about your anger, confusion, happiness, sadness. Make art about your experience of being human, and someone somewhere will be able to relate to it. But just remember than in this world we live in, the idea of “good art” relies so much on monetary values and values of popularity. Those things aren’t worth sacrificing your mental well-being.