When I wrote poems with my friends throughout college, I realized some common themes of virtually all of our pieces. They were about love, sex, the past and our own disorganized self.
College was the first time my creative juices were on tap, constantly refilled and always fresh. I was even in a band with a couple of these guys and the same themes I mentioned earlier kept popping up.
As a result, I naturally started to correlate art with pain.
While I can’t argue that my reasoning was wrong per se, it certainly wasn’t beneficial. I wanted a better life for myself. I wanted to be happier. I said to myself, “But if I had a better life, would I be able to write as well as I do? Would my songs be any good?”
Movies are based on conflict, otherwise there’s no plot and therefore no point in watching them. My musical taste was pretty morose but I felt so alive listening to these artists express their grief or victory despite their obstacles.
I was in a tricky situation, a situation that became trickier once life actually started to improve.
As I feared, I couldn’t write anymore because I had nothing to say. Everything was fine and I had no need for catharsis.
But then when things went south, sure enough, the writing came back. At least that made me happy.
Nevertheless, I knew that this was not a sustainable method of creation and yet I couldn’t argue with the results. The greatest heartaches gave rise to many of my greatest works. My favorite artists’ greatest works were derived from their greatest pains. I was terrified I would start writing about smiles and rainbows and perfectly flipped golden-brown pancakes.
But I knew I had to write about something positive. But what?
Funnily enough, the answer was staring me right in the face. I wrote about nature. Oddly enough, I had been doing it all along but didn’t realize it because they were crowded out by the work from the deep, dark well of emotion.
So I started to deliberately do it. It wasn’t great initially because I was writing from my mind and not intuitively, but eventually I realized what I was doing wrong and I started to enjoy it thoroughly.
Then I branched out and started writing about the landscape of the mind. I enjoyed that too. Suddenly, I had the ability to diversify and the best part is that I was enjoying writing and maintaining my happiness.
Artist Noah Cyrus and A&R Consultant Lou Al-chamaa hosted a podcast with special guest entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk where he said something that beautifully summarized how to make good art.
“The good sh — comes from truth.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
I was pleasantly stunned at how incisive and succinct his point was. He then mentioned that when John Lennon wrote “Imagine” it clearly wasn’t derived from pain and suffering.
I think back in the day I would’ve disagreed and said that he wrote it to juxtapose the suffering that he saw in the world and perhaps even the suffering in himself. Because why would anyone write about beauty? They would just enjoy it.
That was what I believed back then. And who knows? Maybe the younger, pessimistic me was correct. We’ll never know.
But the older, less pessimistic me could easily counter that by asking why would anyone write about pain? They would just endure it. It isn’t as if people want it so why commemorate it?
Of course I know that both pain and pleasure deserve a voice because as Vaynerchuk said, they both can come from truth. When the work is honest, you’re overcome by a wave of satisfaction. That was what I loved about writing back in the day. That was also why some poems or songs I made didn’t satisfy me as much.
Those works may have been technically great but if they weren’t representing authenticity, it didn’t even matter if people loved them. I didn’t. People probably loved them because they saw their truth in it and lauded it. But because I didn’t put my truth in it, I never saw what others did.
Which leads me to the next point. Some people aren’t going to see any truth in what you do, and that’s perfectly normal and good.
We live in a relative world where people value different things. I’m sure if you did a poll on whether or not oxygen is good, you would have people who would say that they hate it and people who were undecided.
I think oxygen is great but that’s just me.
The point is that you have to put your truth out there, knowing that people are going to drag it through the mud simply because it isn’t their truth. As far as I see it, that means the world is working as it should.
But that also means that there are people who will definitely like it, which is always nice.
So when it comes to art, just do what you got to do in authenticity and truth. What you do serves your fans, your haters and yourself in the exact same way: whether they like it or not, your work will reinforce their values.
Your work will reinforce their truth.