The Artist’s Sensitivity


To be an artist, you don’t have to be depressed most of the time, but you do have to nurture your sensitivity.

A butterfly flies by. You marvel at it.

Music flows out of a window. You catch the notes, you play them in your mind.

The clouds assume fantastic shapes. You peer at them, you try to make them out.

When inspiration comes your way, you have to open yourself to it. If you are an artist, you have to be receptive.

That moment when inspiration passes through us is a moment of wonderful satisfaction, but it is also one of vulnerability. Our hands try to hold on to that inspiration, to carve out of it a piece of ourselves. Our hands are not on guard. Life can lurk around us. Life can punch us down.

It may seem that being a writer these days places you in the comfortable position of the observer. But think about it. Every hour that we spend writing or reading is an hour we don’t spend building defenses. Our attention is fully concentrated on what we do. The world zooms into ourselves. We inhabit that wonderful place of the mind within ourselves, where the dichotomy between mind and body is resolved.

But every hour plunged in art could have gone into making money, making connections, buying bigger cars, getting insurance, raising walls. Under the cloak of normality, we could have stealthily built material defenses around us, like most people do.

In time our craft may bring us the riches to build such defenses. But by then our habit of sensitivity will be so deep that they won’t matter anymore. Which is why so many famous artists go mad or kill themselves.

The difference between an artist and other people isn’t one of creativity. Everyone is creative in his own way, often surprisingly so. Rather, it’s a difference of sensitivity. An artist will weep over what another man will scoff. She will weep in paint or words or notes. She can’t help it.

We are sensitive, we are fragile, we are artists.

But what do we do for self-defense? What do we do when life punches us down? Drugs, alcohol, sex, suicide? Do we change careers?

We don’t. Five times no.

We remember something we shouldn’t forget: we are not sensitive because we are artists, but we are artists because we are sensitive.

When life punches us, we crawl over our art. We bleed over it. We make it deep.