The Creative Impulse

My social feeds are essentially composed of two very distinct types of people: friends from my everyday life and people I’ve met through my writing, be that other writers, editors, comic book artists or even cover artists.

The interesting thing is that the people from the writing world are much more likely to be painters or artists than the rest. There’s even a sculptor or two among them. (I can’t say much about music, because I’ve been singing in choirs since childhood, so a LOT of my non-writing friends are in the music scene).

But let’s look at that fine arts trend. People who should be spending an enormous amount of time sweating at the keyboard are apparently spending a good chunk of that at the easel.

Why? Why do these people still feel the need to create even though they’re already building literary works.

Herman Hesse – Ticino in Switzerland

Psychologists probably have hundreds of different explanations for this, but my own take, as far as I’m able to read my own impulses (I draw cars. They probably aren’t “fine art” but I like them) is a combination of wanting recognition for having made something beautiful combined with a desire for immortality.

But shouldn’t the writing itself take care of these urges? After all, my writing friends are mainly published authors who have had at least a few editors tell them “I love this, I’d like to publish it.” Added to this is the fact that somewhere before that, people were already telling them: “hey, this is really good, you should consider publishing.” So the desire for approval is, to a degree, met by writing.

And immortality? No writer knows how that will play out. Melville died a forgotten failure. So did Poe. And then there were the writers who wrote the bestsellers from a hundred years ago. Lauded and fêted, they are forgotten today (if you want to have a bit of fun, here’s a list of the ten bestselling books per year, starting in 1900… a LOT of utterly forgotten writers on that one).

Worse, there’s the survival factor. Do we have any idea whether Beowulf was a good ancient story or just mediocre hackwork? Not in the least, because its contemporaries haven’t survived. It’s great because it’s here. Same with Gilgamesh. So maybe only writers who get their work in print books will survive. Or maybe sea levels will rise and paper books will be used to absorb excess moisture in houses, and only a few authors published in non-paying online journals will represent this generation of writers. We just don’t know.

So why, to that, add painting? My own theory is that adopting another art form allows authors to create without performance anxiety. When we’re writing, we’re always creating for an imaginary editor, a reader or a Pulitzer Prize judge (to each his own). What we create has to be good. It has to be literary. It has to entertain, or teach, or preach, or emote. It has to be memorable.

And under that pressure, some of the innocence of creation cedes. The joy of writing a good paragraph might be exactly the same, but it is tempered by the fear that it might not be good enough. And that’s true whenever you’re writing for publication, whether you’re a writer with a single story published in a 4-the-luv magazine, or a Nobel Prize winner (admittedly, I’ve never been a Nobel Prize winner, but I’ve read things where they say this).

But painting a picture? Sure, I can sit down with a YouTube tutorial and do a watercolor. I can buy a box of colored pencils and draw cars. Or I can go straight to oil paint and pretend to be Renoir. My friends and family will say things like “that’s very nice”, and I will have the satisfaction of having given pleasure to someone via something I created and left behind palpable proof of my existence to survive in garage sales and flea markets long after I’ve gone from this Earth.

And no one ever rejects my drawings.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina. His book of interconnected short stories, Love and Death, gives a complete narrative of several families across generations, allowing the reader to delight not only in the events of the stories themselves but in the irony of the twists and turns of fate. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can check it out here.

5 comments

  1. Hmm…as you know, I’m an artist as well as a (sometime) poet and writer, but lately I’ve decided to concentrate on my art (in my case, mostly drawing). Yes, one of the reasons I’ve decided to concentrate on art is because I deal with fewer rejections of my art than I do of my writing, and after a while rejections can get me down. Plus, my art tends to be slightly more lucrative. I think both are due to art having a wider general appeal than written works. In this day and age of print-on-demand sites, art also has more uses. Sure, I suppose I could sell T-shirts and mugs featuring some of my poems, but I think T-shirts and mugs featuring my art have a wider customer base.

    I’ve been doing art for sale to the public longer than I’ve been seeing my written works appear in publications, and I’ve been doing art (interior illustrations and cover artworks) for publications about as long as I’ve been seeing my poems and other written works appear in publications. I don’t remember the last time I did art just for the sake of doing art, just for my own self-expression (2007, maybe?). I can’t say I create my art without the same “performance anxiety”, as you call it, as I suffer when creating written works. There’s still a pressure there to please my audience. There’s still great pressure to get it right. There are times I suffer what my wife calls “artorexia” and agonize over flaws in my visual art that aren’t actually there. If that’s not anxiety over “performance pressure”, over the pressure to make it good, I don’t know what is!

    Even visual art is still created for an audience, and in the case of art created for publication, or for sale to the public, it’s still created for a potential audience you hope will like and accept it. Different medium, but same pressures. It just so happens that, from the point of sales and acceptances, my art tends to be more successful than my writing (not that my writing has been entirely unsuccessful – after all, I have had a plethora of poems, a number of nonfiction articles, and a handful of stories published in various venues). However, it does seem people who might not be interested in my writings are still interested in my drawings.

    Even when I was a kid, I wanted to please my teachers and my family with my visual art. Even back then, there was still some pressure to please others. Nowadays, I certainly create art with the pressure to make it good and make it memorable and make it artistic. I’m under pressure to please my clients and customers. Luckily, more often than not, my art DOES please.

    Whether or not a creative-type suffers from such pressure might be a matter of why one creates in the first place. Why write? Why create art? Is it for the public, or more for oneself? If one does art more for self-expression than for sale or for publication or for hanging in a gallery, then sure, there’s little pressure to please others. However, the moment someone creates for others, the pressure is on, regardless of the actual art medium. I’m betting there are some writers out there who write mostly for themselves and not for publication, but because they aren’t writing for public consumption, as it were, we’re unlikely to ever hear about them. I doubt those writing for themselves suffer from much “performance anxiety”.

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    1. Absolutely agreed. While I feel a lot less pressure when creating visual art, it’s definitely true that artists whose primary medium is visual would feel the way I do when writing.

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      1. Having done both under pressure, as it were, I’ve felt that anxiety doing both. There are times I’ve concentrated primarily on writing, and during those times you could say that I was a writer/poet who also did art. There are other times (like right now) when I’ve concentrated more on art, and you could say I was an artist who also wrote. At yet other times I’ve balanced the two and acted as a writer AND artist. However, during ALL those times, I’ve felt the pressure to do both right, to make both art and writing good and memorable.

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  2. Interesting. As you’ve pointed out, I’ve sold artworks, but I consider myself primarily a writer… so the art, though I like to do my very best, isn’t produced under the same pressure in my case. I suppose I just don’t think of myself, deep down, as a visual artist.

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    1. I might not always be creating visual and literary art at the same time, but I consider myself both a writer/poet and an artist, with equal pressure to do it right and be artistic, whether it be written works or visual art. I actually know a number of writers and poets who are also visual artists, and who’ve seen both their written works and visual art published. As a matter of fact, the editor who initially prodded me into submitting my artworks to publications after accepting one of my poems for publication is, herself, a writer/poet AND a visual artist. I was even inspired by some of her works and incorporated bits of her style into my own art.

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