Creativity and discomfort

Teenage me was fairly sure that people who were comfortable did not make great art. Partly this came from some self awareness regarding my own urges to create, and some of it from reading biographies. There are reasons the tortured-artist cliche exists.

For a long time, the drive to create was very much rooted in my own distress. I needed to put something into the world that paid for my existing. That wasn’t a good way to be, and my fundamental discomfort meant that I never could produce anything good enough to feel like it entitled me to exist. 

Creativity comes from the need to make, the need to change things, to add something to the world, to fix or improve something in some way. There is no making without the urge to change something, and the person who feels uncomfortable or insufficient may be more motivated to seek change by whatever means they can.

Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable. My basic physical needs are fairly well met. I’ve dealt with a lot of my issues. I don’t feel I have much to prove, and most days I don’t feel like I have to justify taking up space. On the bad days these things can all show up, but I don’t live there. I note that the relationship between discomfort and creativity has changed for me.

There’s so much to be uncomfortable about that isn’t personal. The state of the world, the amount of suffering out there, the politics, the systemic oppression and cruelty, the exploitation and abuse… Making has become a way to push back. Sometimes that’s about keeping usable stuff out of landfill, or cobbling things together for us so we don’t need to buy them. Small acts of eco-resistance. Often what motivates me is the urge to comfort or inspire someone else.

At this point, my own circumstances could not become so comfortable that I would have no motivation to create. These are the tools I have that I can use to help. That might mean creating as a way to raise funds to get things done (I have plans). It may mean offering what comfort and cheer I can (that’s a lot of the motivation for this blog and my whole approach to social media). While others suffer, I cannot be wholly comfortable.

Without the annoyance of grit, oysters do not make pearls. It’s something they do in self defence. There can be a lot of self-help in turning life’s grit into personal arty pearls. As I saunter about my middle years, I realise that teenage me was wide of the mark. Comfort is something that the privileged are able to choose. It depends on ignoring the suffering and the needs of others. Discomfort definitely does fuel creativity, but that can be entirely about a reaction to what’s out there. A person does not have to be suffering directly in order to empathise and try to make something that will help. A person who chooses their own comfort and isn’t open to the world isn’t going to make good art.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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