Artists Are Pure, So Is Everyone Else

Artists don’t create for other people, they create for themselves. That’s how it starts, anyway: creating art to satisfy a personal need. For the lucky ones, it stays that way, and they spend their entire lives creating art that’s pure—done for themselves and for the art itself—just like it was in the beginning.

In that way, artists are no different from anyone else. Humans have passions, and only a tiny, tiny fraction of us turn our passions into careers or even side jobs. Perhaps art is justifiably or unjustifiably elevated above, say, mountain biking, but it doesn’t mean passions run any cooler.

Oh, Emily

Find ecstasy in life. The mere sense of living is joy enough.

—Emily Dickinson

Dickinson, considered one of America’s greatest poets, published only a handful of poems in her lifetime. No one epitomizes the ‘pure’ artist more than her. It was only after her death that people discovered her talent.

“Often caricatured in popular culture as a white-clad recluse who poured out morbid verse in the sanctuary of her bedroom,” writes EmilyDickinsonMuseum.org. “Emily Dickinson was a serious artist whose intellectual curiosity and emotional intensity are revealed in concise and compelling poems that capture a range of human experiences.”

Just why Dickinson never published and lived a reclusive life is still up for debate. Although a few lines of her poetry may shed some light…

How happy is the little stone

That rambles in the road alone,

And doesn’t care about careers,

And exigencies never fears…

What’s not up for debate is her passion for living.

“On the face of it, the life of this New England poet seems uneventful and largely invisible,” reports the Guardian. “But there’s a forceful, even overwhelming character belied by her still surface. She called it a ‘still—volcano—life,’ and that volcano rumbles beneath the domestic surface of her poetry and a thousand letters.”

Also not up for debate is her passion for poetry and the written word.

I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.

And…

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

Pretty pure, if you ask me.

Oh, the Rest of Us Too

“I can elect something I love and absorb myself in it,” wrote Anaïs Nin.

To me, that’s the essence of a hobby or a passion—that we love it and we can lose ourselves in it. That it pays or doesn’t pay is immaterial. It’s only how it makes us feel that matters, and that we understand and appreciate that fact.

“If you are losing your leisure, look out!” warned Virginia Woolf. “It may be you are losing your soul.”

And the flipside, from Oscar Wilde: “One must be serious about something if one wants to have any amusement in life.”

The word ‘hobby’ somehow demeans our passions. The association with leisure does that, as well. Hobbies is just the word we came up with to describe all the stuff we’re into but don’t get paid for doing. Yet somehow because we don’t get paid for them they’re not as serious?

I disagree. Survival comes first, always. But I’d wager a lot of us are, in some ways, more serious about our hobbies than our jobs. We work because we have to, but we do our hobbies because we want to—or, in the case of artists, because we have to, because we’re not happy when we don’t do our art.

And considering one hobby or passion more serious than another is arbitrary. “Hobbies of any kind are boring except to people who have the same hobby,” quipped columnist Dave Barry.

For example: just because I think single-speed mountain biking is fun doesn’t mean my friends do. Actually, a lot of my friends that mountain bike (on bikes with gears) think I’m nuts, even though I also ride bikes with gears and have tried to explain the appeal of single-speeding to them.

It doesn’t matter, though. I won’t take my single-speeding any less seriously because of what my friends think. (I’m flying my freak flag proudly.)

Hobbies Are Pure

For a lucky few of us, our passions turn into careers.

“Successful technologies often begin as hobbies,” wrote physicist Freeman Dyson. “Jacques Cousteau invented scuba diving because he enjoyed exploring caves. The Wright brothers invented flying as a relief from the monotony of their normal business of selling and repairing bicycles.”

That’s a very, very few of us, though. For most of us, our passions are part-time jobs that don’t pay—money, anyway. But what we get in return is almost as important to our happiness as our jobs. Survival always comes first, and always will—obviously—but passion is a close second.

So it’s important that we continue to fly our freak flags. Proudly. Purely.

Charlie Smith