There are many stories of artists in constant battle with themselves, many suffering periods of depression or even madness, that it has perhaps become accepted that creative types simply have exaggerated senses of emotion and live in a world of drama: Van Gogh who cut off his own ear, Mozart whose behaviour was erratic and far from conventional and actress Sheridan Smith’s recent breakdown – these are prime examples, and of people who are or were at the top of their game, but are few and far between throughout the industry.
I’m not saying we should question the sanity of all creatives, nor that people from other professions and walks of life don’t suffer too, but perhaps we should consider why so many artists and creatives never feel truly content.
As an actor you live in a world where you are constantly judged, for the way you look, sound etc – everything single thing that you identify as being uniquely part of you can and will be used against you. A world where at least 9 times out of 10 you face rejection for being slightly too short, not skinny enough, or even for no specific reason at all apart from a hunch from a casting director. Then there’s that fact that we are always actively compared to others, and have a tendency to compare ourselves to others which is far from healthy.
Actors have to remain open and vulnerable to be able to carry out their job, they have to be more self-aware than most – this can be a wonderful thing, but it also brings with it a pitfall: actors and writers will spend hours trying to get inside people’s heads, and that tendency to overthink often seeps into their own life too. Of course then there is the danger of actors bringing past emotion and trauma into their performances, which can have personal repercussions.
Fulfilment is something all human lives seek: for some it is in achieving wealth and career success, others in the forging and raising of a family, and for some in the act of charity or the fight for justice. Creatives would perhaps more readily describe themselves as perfectionists, and no matter how good their last project, many never feel truly satisfied and want for better, for perfection. And of course a good project doesn’t mean that more or increased success will follow – so it is little wonder that they ever find themselves comfortable with their current situation.
Even people like Beethoven, Shakespeare and other creative geniuses must have doubted themselves at times, they must have thought themselves capable of better and battled the demons that sometimes seem to come in waves. There seems to be a constant sense of not being enough in the creative mind, of questioning your talent, and of wanting to be accepted. Of course, I don’t intend to tar all with the same brush here: I’m sure there are creatives who truly feel content – but even if they were to assert this, the drive for perfection largely still remains.
Financial woes are besetting a great deal of the public right now, with rising living costs, stagnating wages and a housing crisis in full swing. Creatives are by all accounts having a very hard time at present. From cuts in funding, to ludicrously high rent prices in the cultural hub of the UK, London, many feel like they are being driven out of being able to survive and make ends meet doing the thing they so love.
From temporary job to temporary job, with the little security that such contracts bring it is easy to feel like you are treating water. You strive to create your own work, go to classes, to network – but after you’ve worked 40+ hours in a week to feed and shelter yourself it leaves little time, money or energy for career related tasks. It can often feel like your time is being wasted in pursuit of an extremely unlikely goal – it’s near impossible to set goals and track a careers progress like it is in most other industries. You just sit, and hope that tomorrow is your lucky day, and that something will come along that will propel you into the cultural consciousness of the industry and that you’ll never be out of work again.
Luckily enough the people that populate the creative industries tend to be some of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet, but I am beginning to think that this is borne out of necessity more than anything else – we need the support of those around us, we need the collective sense of mutuality, otherwise we’d never survive in this cruel industry.
Irving Berlin once wrote “There’s no people like show people. They smile when they are low” – which remains the sad truth, because what other choice do we have? A life without the arts, which to most would be simply unbearable.
So be kind to a creative, encourage them, and if you can please support their work – because it might just make a difference, at least in the short term if not the long.