What about both? I'd say, as an artist some of the greatest sparks of inspiration have cropped up from my greatest moments of desperation. And not always because of a tragedy... I am known to procrastinate. Not because I am lazy, but because I know that I perform well under pressure. However, I am also, almost always, late. To every occasion. To work, parties, and events that require absolutely no inspiration on my part whatsoever. Because I have now set myself up to operate in this fashion. I thrive on the hustle and bustle of finding the perfect dress at the last minute, double checking my lipstick in the mirror, not having things packed and ready to go and then having to trudge back up 4 flights of stairs in my 4 inch heels to grab my jacket, sunglasses, phone... headshots. For some reason this makes me feel important or sometimes it just gives me an excuse or something to complain about. My ego loves this shit.
It's not healthy, I know, and I am continuously working on it.
However there is a great difference between drumming up an artistic feat from the ashes of desperation and living in a constant state of sullenness and despair. Otherwise known as the "Starving Artist Syndrome." Thinking that divine inspiration visits you because you are a suffering artist, misunderstood, looking in on the world from the outside and the occasional spark of creativity that stems from this state is your consolation prize.
And it is true that some of the world's greatest art was conceived from the depths of pain, loss and sorrow. But to wear it like a cloak or even worse a crown, not only handicaps as an artist, it is selfish and cliché.
Here is a quote I found from Jim Carrey:
"I don't think human beings learn anything without desperation. Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything or creating anything. Period. If you ain't desperate at some point, you ain't interesting."
I can get behind that. Kind of. For a minute. Desperation can be a necessary ingredient to success, but it is the only one? I am fond of the tragic clown. A deep connection and understanding of sadness and the human condition is what makes actors like Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and even Will Ferrell so funny. They aren't afraid to show their cracks. And when they turn around and do a dramatic piece we always question whether or not they'll be any good. But the performance they deliver always ends up being superb.
That's the thing about comedians. They use their sadness, their slip-ups, and their hard knocks as material for their work. I imagine it's a way of healing. But they don't wallow in it. Every one of us has got their fair share of battle scars. But there is need to keep them fresh or wear them like badges. And you don't need to experience suffering in order to portray it on film or on stage. You do need to have the information, know your facts and the story and hopefully as actor you've been gifted with an acute sense of empathy. Empathy does not mean you have to experience another person's suffering, loss or even triumph. It means that you have an open heart and an open mind and a great deal of imagination. Tools that allow you to step into another person's reality and portray it honestly and convincingly.
I read another quote once about an actor whose memories as an out of work actor were as fresh an open wound and he still carries that with him to this day.
What?! Get over it! Who wants to walk around with an open wound? Where did this idea come from to keep your scars open and bleeding so that every time you need a bit of creative inspiration you can just stick your fingers in there and dig around until you drum up enough memories to squeeze out a tear for the masses. Oh my god. Go get yourself a therapist and job and eat a sandwich. Please.
Ok, that was harsh, but take a look at the world around you today. There are 2 billion people without clean water and millions more without food! Many people in my own neighborhood are with out jobs and can't feed their children and it seems there is a war on nearly every foreign continent. The pale, sullen artist sitting in the corner, all in black, without a job, is not attractive anymore.
And to be honest, (sorry Jim), and this is my personal opinion, I find desperation to be extremely boring. I'd say Uma Thurman sums it up pretty well for me.
"Desperation is the perfume of the young actor. It's so satisfying to have gotten rid of it. If you keep smelling it, it can drive you crazy. In this business a lot of people go nuts, go eccentric, even end up dead from it. Not my plan."
Yeah! The fact of the matter is, this job is hard!! And the good gigs are few and far between. And I do not want to be one of those out of work actors in my late 40's walking New York City talking to myself.
I did an interview for backstage called "Which Survival Job is Right for You?" You can read it here:
I happened to enter the world of health and fitness. And it's not just a survival job anymore. It's a second career. I am just as passionate about it as I am about my acting. This particular profession has given me the gift of insight into how to approach my artistic endeavors. It has also given me stability, focus, strength, self-worth and confidence. I can be happy and do great work. I don't have to be starving to make good art.
If you haven't already, do yourself a favor; Set yourself up in a comfortable living space and find a job that supports your craft. Meaning you can pay the bills, support yourself as a business and have the flexibility to take off at a moment's notice if the real deal comes through. Find a hobby other than acting, you'll meet new people and it will give you something interesting to discuss with agents, casting directors etc. People that blab on and on about "The Biz" are boring. Truly. Take care of your body, it’s the first thing people look at and it's ultimately the only physical tool you have. The more clear headed you are the mores satisfied you are in life, the more prepared you will be to handle the pitfalls and disasters that life will through in your path and the more productive you will become.
Be sensitive to the world around you, but don't let it eat you up.
Why not try to always try to work, live, create from inspiration? Why not?
Check out Shelleen Kostabi!
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