To You, the Struggling Artist: The sacrifices made in the fulfilment of Bliss
Responsibility has always demanded sacrifice, and it stretches back through the ages weaving its complicated labyrinth around the collective soul of humanity. Virgil wrote of the tragedy and weight of the greatest sacrifice of all: Love. A sacrifice made in the name of duty to something far greater than their own being. I refer to Aeneas, the prince of Troy, who falls in love with the Queen of Carthage, Dido. Their love is impalpable and beautiful, but Aeneas has forgotten the duty laid down for him by Juno, and is torn between sailing for Italy and giving his nomadic people a home or to maintain his great love for Dido and live a simpler life. In the end Aeneas maintains his duty and breaks her heart, along with his own. Dido, reacts with pain and curses him as he breaks her the news that he leaves for Italy the next day: I write this to all those struggling artists, actors, dancers and directors who have committed the kind of sacrifice Aeneas made; for their duty to making objective art that once witnessed hopefully allows humans to become better than they are. But beware what you are giving up, and have you fully valued the opportunity cost, for everything has a cost, and virtue taken to its extreme becomes a vice. Following your bliss comes with a price.
[Dido] “My ghost will stalk you through the world! You’ll pay, you shameless, ruthless — and I will hear of it, yes, the report will reach me even among the deepest shades of death”. She breaks off in the midst of outbursts, desperate, flinging herself from the light of day, sweeping out of his sight, leaving him numb with doubt, with much to fear and much he means to say. But Aeneas is driven by duty now. Strongly as he longs to ease and allay her sorrow, speak to her, turn away her anguish with reassurance, still, moaning deeply, heart shattered by his great love, in spite of all he obeys the gods’ commands and back he goes to the ships. — Virgil, ‘The Aeneid’ [Trans. by Fagles, R]
Becoming a great director or actor requires a lifestyle choice, to work immensely long hours with no financial stability, and it is hard for others to empathise or even to fit in to this requirement. Eugene O’Neill’s last wife, Carlotta, saw his greatness and forced him into the study to write Long Days Journey Into Night; not letting him come out till he’s done his due, for months on end. He would come out of the study 10 hours later, soaked in tears, and she would his hold head as he cried himself to exhaustion. That woman made sacrifices of her own because she saw greatness in what that man had to say, and it became a play that is celebrated today as one of the great reflections of the human family. But when you’re a struggling artist, it is hard for people to see your greatness, when you’re the only one who sees the vision of yourself at the end of the day and what you can do. Fortunately, Carlotta supported him albeit at the expense of her own energy. Artists can become so absorbed in their work that they forget the consequences of their actions upon others. It is not just the opportunity cost of material things in your life you must give up; you must also be willing to hurt, or at least inflict suffering on those around you. If you are not prepared to do this to another, perhaps it is time to get out, otherwise buckle up because reality is just around the corner.
In all honesty, I am not prepared to put my ambitions over the needs of another anymore. I have hurt to many people. As John Lennon said “I don’t earn love anymore…I am becoming love”, and he only came to this realisation after giving up his “work” for his child. Are you in it to earn love? Really, truly ask yourself this question, why am I doing what I am doing? Is it a calling, a romantic notion? Or is it a deeper seated trauma sitting in the child psyche that is yearning to be heard. Either way, if you don’t get aware of your baggage, it can be very difficult to climb the mountain traditionally or non-traditionally. You might say that the material is easy to give up, but this becomes a real source of conflict if you want to raise a family.
Rubin Carter used to say that “everything is as it should be”, an idea he got from his Muslim days. I think he meant that, despite all the shit that goes on, one can never lose faith in the purpose of one’s work. The journey is what matters, not the end result. When you complete work on a play and the performances are over, the empty feeling is in inverse proportion to the life you feel during the process. Have faith in that. — Ken Klonsky, Director of Innocence International
Follow your Bliss. Joseph Campbell is legendary for this statement, and it is true, if you do not fulfil your purpose in life it can have dire effects on yourself and the people around you. Hundreds of studies on young boys who are deprived of father figures find it very difficult to assimilate purpose into their lives, and therefore search for it destructive ways [I refer you to “Boy Crisis” by Warren Farrell]. Finding a Purpose, is therefore not only beneficial for the self but for the community as a whole. But in artist’s eyes there is only one purpose, one bliss, and all energy is directed towards that one goal, the expression of self. A blindfold is put on, and the spontaneity of life is only to be found in the creations you create, but foolishly missing out on the creation of things happening beyond you. You may miss out on other “purposes”. You can argue that your creation comes from the inspiration of life, but how can it when you have not lived all there is to be lived. Your inspiration comes from the place in which you identify, which is a very small place. I know it sounds pessimistic but it is a hard truth, and perhaps if I had a father figure myself, we could’ve had these discussions around the table to prevent me from falling down a well too deep, “What am I willing to give up to follow my bliss?”
What if I were to tell that Bliss changes as time progresses?
How much stock could you put in to your art if you knew the meaning of your “purpose” was transient? Not very much. What if we were to tell our soldiers that they weren’t to be respected as heroes, would the soldier still put his or her life on the line? Joseph Campbell said ‘Follow Your Bliss’, but what he didn’t say was what happens after! What happens when the Hero returns? What happens when you followed your bliss to its completion? Does he sit around and wash his hands and tell himself, “Well I’m Done.” No, the cycle repeats itself because life keeps on moving, and it doesn’t wait, the purpose changes to something else. Purpose changes. Meaning it is ok to short your stock. Epidemiologically, we know a sense of purpose is essential for the health of everyone, individually and collectively. But at what point does that purpose become a burden to you. Every virtu becomes a vice taken to its extreme. As an artist the odds are stacked against you. What point are you going to think why am I doing this? Every artist has this question, so perhaps that’s not the question to ask, perhaps, “why am I refusing to give up on this struggle?” Is it because you have invested too much, is it because you need to be seen, truly ask yourself this question. In my opinion see a therapist because cognitive dissonance and bias is a just to whimsical ally.
What are you giving up? What is the opportunity cost?
Have a think about this yourself. Think about what is missing in the present, but also think about the long term. The odds are stacked against you, what if Plan A doesn’t work, what will the future look like? Will your partner want a family, to travel, to have pets? Will you want to be renting for the rest of your life? Or will you be comfortable living alone? Are you willing to sacrifice your partner for your art because they want children and you can’t afford too, because you’re following your bliss? These are some good points to start with.
The hard truth is there is no such thing as a calling; its what you are willing to hear, and perhaps what your “id” needs to feed on. Purpose changes, none more so than for the account written by Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, a doctor whose bliss was taken from his hands, in which he had to forge a new one, to survive. He summarised it is not what we demand or are entitled to from life, its what life demands of us. In this book he constantly referenced Nietzsche, “If you have a why, you can endure almost any how.” God forbid, if you were ever to be in a similar situation, would the calling of being an actor get you through? Is the purpose strong enough to endure real hardship? If the motivation is not strong enough I’d suggest to take time to really find the individual self. I also suggest reading the book to see what got these men and women through such atrocity.
So, to the artists reading this, the ones that go on to tackle the new problems of the 21st century, I salute you, because you’ve endured. And too those that change tack, I salute you because it takes courage to go into the unknown and give up everything your identity is built on and yet the spontaneity that arises to opening your eyes, will fill you with an inspiration you may never have dreamed of.