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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Suffering Artist in the New Millennium

Okay, I'm just going to say it.

I'm tired of suffering for my art. *awaits thunderbolt* See? I didn't get struck by lightning. Suffering is not sacred, morally excellent, or mandatory. Nowhere is it written that an artist must have brown teeth, phlegmatic lungs or a wooden leg. Nor are we required to wear our gray hair in a ratty ponytail, reside in the attic, or talk to pigeons. Of course, many of those conditions/situations tend to arise from extreme poverty, which is still the artistic lifestyle, but that doesn't mean we have to wear Crocs and attend gallery openings in search of free food if we don't want to.

Does it?

I was talking to my friend, Kelly. She's an actor, and currently starring in On Golden Pond at Barksdale Theatre in Hanover, VA. She had a looong lay-over in Philadelphia, and thought about stabbing herself in the neck with a plastic fork to relieve the torture. She suggested that today's suffering artist is not shivering in a basement somewhere, wearing fingerless gloves and dabbing frozen paint onto stretched canvas. Instead, (s)he is disrobing in airport security and getting ushered from the free booze line in the Delta lounge. (Unless you have the credit card dipped in gold leaf, they don't like you guzzling their chardonnay. Who knew?)

Today's suffering artist develops stooped shoulders by spending so much time hunched over a keyboard. (S)he becomes paranoid when someone un-friends her on Facebook. Her skin becomes more leather-like with the appearance of each online review. She develops a unsightly flattening of the forehead from banging her head against the social media wall, trying desperately not to appear desperate, trolling for potential readers in nebulous online groups whose last activity predates the new millennium. She wakes with the horrifying realization that (shudder) it's time to open a vein and compose yet another blog post. As for living conditions, well, I could show you dust bunnies that would make you pee your pants.

This is all very French, you know, this suffering artist thing. They started it. The Revolution really did a number on their psyches. Victor Hugo even named his masterpiece after their preoccupation: Les Miserables. No,not the musical. The book .Sigh. I suspect American ex-pats picked up the lifestyle in Paris, then brought it home in the form of divine dissatisfaction and a tendency to sabotage personal relationships. But I only know what I read on Twitter.

So, yeah. I'm not going to do this suffering artist thing anymore. I'm going to rummage through the trash for my gym clothes and start thinking about beginning to start a potential work out routine when I get a chance to stop procrastonating, maybe. I'm going to recite daily affirmations and eat non-organic food. I'm going to floss.

And THEN I'll be happy.


  1. This beautifully written essay made me want to kill myself. It also made me feel less alone. Thank you.

    R. Pela

  2. Truth to power, Irene, truth to power. Actually, pretty much all of these posts are. I was practically taking notes on the one about knowing when to back off so your friends won't want to kill you.
    RRR (

  3. Funny, if you page forward into the next series of Blogs, most of them are French!

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