Creating Even When You Feel Good

Angst (n.) (ängkst) 

1. A German word referring to "an acute but nonspecific sense of anxiety or remorse". Intense emotional strife. (Collins English Dictionary, 10th ed)

2. (Specific to existential psychology) A normal existential experience; "Angst is...my becoming aware that my existence can become lost, that I can lose myself and my world, that I can become nothing." - Psychologist Rollo May


I have always found it much easier to be creative when going through a period of dark angst. When life is joyful and things are humming along and I'm feeling great - who has the time? When there is sunshine and there are bike rides and happiness abounds, who wants to carve out the time to make something meaningful? I'm sure, like many creative people, my muse tends to visit more and linger longer when there is turmoil, confusion and decay. Consider Van Gogh for a moment. He made some pretty awe-inspiring work and we are still reaping the societal, artistic benefits of his mental illness, depression and syphilis. (It is also rumored that he licked his brushes clean, but that is another issue). If his life had been sunshine and rainbows, I highly doubt we'd be enjoying the beauty of "A Starry Night" all these years later. So much great art has it's roots in destruction and heartbreak. I think a large challenge as an artist is creating artwork with value or depth when things are going well.   

For a long time I stopped creating anything. My life is good! I thought that meant I was not worthy to be an artist at all. When I was in theater school, the general school of thought among my peers was that you had to have visited some pretty dark places in life to be of any real relevance in that world. At the time I had mostly positive experiences in my past, so pretty quickly the guilt set in that my life had not contained any abuse or atrocities. I could not possibly relate in any meaningful way to art or life.


Generally when it comes to art, I think a lot of artists will agree that not a lot of people really want to hear about how wonderful things are going for you, or look at pictures of your personal rainbows all the time. Very quickly people begin to see your work as trite, banal and not "real" in terms of expressiveness. When your art is happy it belongs on a mug, but not in a gallery. Unless you are buying a Thomas Kincaid painting for over your couch, the world is generally more interested in works that are challenging, coming from a place of some depth and that make you think – usually about dark and complicated things. (Although, on an ironic note, do a little digging about Thomas Kincaid to read about his personal life and conduct. You'll question everything you thought you knew about fairy-scape paintings).

As humans we are all fascinated with the train wrecks, the suffering, the complications and the dark underbelly of people's psyches and motivations. Just look at all of the societal emphasis we put on atrocities in the media. But here's my take:

We're all humans.

We all have stories to tell. It's true that some stories are going to resonate with more people than others. Maybe it's because of an atrocity, maybe it's because of a point of view, or maybe because that particular story just makes people feel something. If your story isn't full of angst should you feel bad and keep it to yourself? I don't think so. 

So even though I live in a rainbow-fairy-unicorn castle on a pink cloud in the sky, I still feel like I have something artistically to say. (And in case you didn't know, I tend to be a bit of a cynic and I can skillfully paint any conversation with thick, syrupy sarcasm. Sarcasm has been my art of choice for many years. So I guess maybe my art has a dark side after all).

So artists, whether you create something about the deep, dark bowels of humanity, or you create something about fairy clouds and stardust, what you have to say has value. Everyone has something to share. Somewhere out there is someone who needs to hear what you have to say.

Just. Keep. Creating.

© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.