Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pain = art?

Someone in my critique group brought up a quote from Kierkegaard about poetry requiring pain, and so if someone wishes you success with your art, they're essentially wishing you sorrow. It sounds sort of tongue in cheek or facetious when I write it that way, and I'm not sure if the original was meant to be or not (I've read bits and fragments of Kierkegaard, but no where near enough to know).

Another member countered that a lot of that comes from false ideas we have of certain poets (Coleridge and Keats were his examples), where we have this image of them in suffering (in opium addiction or sickbed), but most of their great poetry came in other (more pleasant) stages of their lives. And I'd add that some of that tortured artist image has been played up by certain poets and writers (Poe, for example) and by their supporters.

It is a highly romantic image that seems to resonate, even when it is simply posture. (And I've certainly run into people who try to pose as tortured souls simply because they think it's right, but that's beside the point) Why is that? Why do we seem to like that image for our artists? Do we just like the idea of benefiting from the suffering of others? Do we cling to it to hedge our bets so that when we do find ourselves to be suffering, then we can console ourselves that perhaps it will lead to great art? Is it simply a glib and shallow image left us by the romantics?

(My answer, by the way, to the original question was,
Certainly someone can create great art that rises from suffering. But it's only essential in the sense that there is suffering in life, in the world, and poetry (and other art) requires that we be in touch with life. Ignoring the suffering in the world is likely to lead to superficial and simplistic poetry (fiction, music, art, etc.), but wallowing in it or imagining that it's the suffering itself that gives birth to great art is no more likely to create anything worthwhile. It is life that gives birth to poetry, life in all its complexities and contradictions.

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