"Artists feel differently."
We've all heard this statement. Either from a rebellious teenager, a high actor, or a determined wannabe. It's become cliche, an excuse used to explain dramatic behavior, depression, indifference, etc.
However, in the past two days, I've had multiple people (with more scientifically dependent employments) ask me about this subject . I tried to put it into words for them as best I could. Perhaps you can relate as well.
Humans in general are designed to function to a set outline of emotion. We are born with some innate sympathy recognition, others responses are inherited by culture. However, even with such objective emotional educations, all people do not feel the same way. They do not encounter joy, pain, rage, fear, etc. with the same references or responses as the person next to them. Nor will they encounter it in same way the next time it presents itself.
Every person has a different background that builds their perspective. That, combined with the fact that no situation is exactly the same, gives us a uniqueness in the feelings department. But, since these emotions are all founded on the basic principles/ideologies of humanity, we can reference the baseline facts of an emotion and relate to one another.
We understand what it is to hurt and therefore don't want to (or perhaps do want to) inflict it on others.
Artists (I'm using the term very loosely. Any one who's job revolves around something that touches a heart and intertwines their identity closely with their work constitutes.) do all of this-times a million.
And every artist is different. Their art is different, their passion/muse is different, their audience/purpose is different. So anything that I say hereafter may or may not apply. However, I present it as truth to the best of my experience and observation.
Artists are sensitive. They have to be. In order to create something provocative, they must be able to plunge into an unknown place and reveal something stirring. Therefore, they must be able to be intune with the minute turnings of the world. This means that the clunkier, everyday turnings are jarring to them-disturbing-overwhelming.
There are times when I will tell my friends that I have to leave a party because I've stumbled upon one of the finer revelations but am surrounded with loudness/conversation that is superficial (not in a bad way, but in a "no room for philosophical quiet reflection" way). I remove myself from the situation for a few minutes, or maybe even an hour, to explore this new thought/feeling/meaning and find it's complexities and intricacies and possibilities so that I can revisit it later.
The problem: society is used to people being victims. I generally get chased down, my door thrown open, and a frantic, sweaty, breathless "Are you okay?" screamed in my ear. When one of my friends sees I'm not sobbing beside a carton of ice cream, she's confused. How could I leave the now to appreciate a floating figment of an idea? So I take the time to explain to her the thought and its magnitude and connections because I'm grateful she cares enough to check on me. After which she gives me a bewildered look and leaves for a more interesting bowl of chips.
Artists are sensitive. And when we come across things that are enlightening in some way, we have to stop and explore lest the thought escape. It's a bit obsessive too. The thought builds until it is ready to burst and almost nothing can be focused upon until the thought/feeling is converted into a stable state. These raw inklings are generally rich with emotional possibility and insight.
I would also like to point out that this act is more than mere sympathy. And it's more than random inspiration that inconveniently interrupts life. It is a feelings transplant. Artists are in the business of feeling. Sometimes their art is a suppression of the feeling, a manipulation of feeling, or even a delusional experience of feeling. But the point is to feel.
The problem is some of us are young with little life experience and, therefore, little claim to a vast range of emotion. Or we've spent most of our lives in a room creating without time to have cancer, meet a relative returning from war, become president . . . you get the idea. Our imagination runs wild, but without feelings, memories (and manufactured memories) are "thought cardboard"-flat and tasteless. Thus, feelings are necessary. In order to write about things we have not experienced, we must be able to connect a feeling as a reference point, a breathing pattern for the story. Obviously, the sympathetic tendencies of human nature help with this. But in order to create, one must go further by owning the emotion and infusing it into a new circumstance. It must feel complete and authentic in order for it to be relatable to others.
We must be able to do this on an internal and external basis (emotional feelings and physical sensations).
Thus the feeling transplant occurs. It's not scientific. And I probably will do a horrendous job of explaining the process but shall attempt to give you a sketch of the happening. Say I see a boy on the news who lost his father in 9/11. (This is a good example because the child would not have physically experienced the circumstances under which his father died - only the emotional loss). If I were to write a story under similar circumstances (a boy who lost his father, but wasn't there to see it happen), I would have to be able to take on not only a loss I have not felt, but also a perspective I don't know.
It becomes a removal of self where in I figuratively step into the boy's shoes, literally explore his mental process of the event, and subject myself to any and all suffering that he may feel as a result.
Have you ever encountered someone who justifies everything their bratty child does? It's like that, but on an intensive, personal scale. If someone speaks of the boy as dramatic in his reaction to the circumstance, I'm immediately defensive. I have created a personal connection to him and his situation. I will either erupt with the boy's emotions had he encountered this person's comment, or, depending on my level of processing, will be able to give a lengthy/objective explanation into his psyche and why his emotions manifest in that manner.
Okay, that's emotion feelings transplant.
Physical feelings transplant needs to occur when I watch someone experience something or want to recreate something I have not experience (because of the sensitivity that is needed for all this to work, the line between simply being exposed on happenstance and research for a creative project gets blurred). Say I watch someone fall off a building. Now, I can tell you have never fallen off a building-and if I had, you should be questioning how exactly I'm writing this. Because my art form is writing, physical feeling transplants are incredibly important. Every word I write (as a fantasy/sci-fi writer) revolves around some new scenario or interaction I have never encountered. Nor anyone else for that matter-so I'd better get it right and explain it well.
I use imagination to recreate the situation and the circumstances surrounding it based on the natural laws of the setting. And, in a sense, hit play. I do this a few different times. Sometimes to get the perspective of the person falling, sometimes for that of the people watching, sometimes to look for details I've missed. But the point is that each time I go this process, it needs to feel as real as my mind and emotions connected to the imaginary instance of falling can make. Otherwise, I will not gather complete research in order to create something excellent and relatable.
Often times, the physical and emotional feeling transplants are combined in one situation and I have to experience them both. Often times hard research through things such as interviews help the imagination have a frame on which to guide the sensations.
Some of you may have heard of method acting-a technique actors can use to implant themselves into a character. This is very similar.
Now why on earth would we subject ourselves to this torturous, tedious process?
The simple answer is to understand. And I think that's kind of the motivation behind a lot human actions. Artists tend to be obsessed with humanity and morality and mortality. We enjoy exploring the philosophical elements as well as the plain ordinary ones. The reality and possibility of us (vague on purpose) is fascinating. We want to ask why and formulate possible answers. We scientists of the soul, researching, testing, failing in order to someday find the answers to the questions cut into us.
A lot of times, the unique perspective an artist takes on this is manifested in the passion or muse the artists uses. Some orbit around themes of hope or explore motivations for political corruption. Others stick to family, attempting to find how they do and don't work. Some address God. Others ignore him. It's an incredibly introspective and yet selflessly dependent occupation because you have to constantly judge yourself and compare to the world around you.
Which can be very, very dangerous.
Drugs, suicide, drinking, depression, cutting, eating disorders, etc. These are all things that have shadowed artists everywhere. With great feeling comes great responsibility. If you don't have a strong foundation of who you are and what you believe before you go throwing yourself into other people's minds and suffering, you can be ripped apart. You can rip yourself apart. It is both a blessing and a curse to feel so deeply and to be so aware of the workings and failings of the world. In order to come back out of those zoomed in, experiential perspectives, one must have a worldview to go back to, a big picture, a greater purpose to break the sometimes crushing hopelessness of a single moment.
Artists create in order to understand, and in order to ask if you understand. Many of their primary language is not conversation but music, poetry, painting, dancing, writing, directing, fashion designing, etc. Art is a very fluid concept. It can extend to almost anything. But the point is, it's a very vulnerable occupation. It is literally a raw heart that an artist has adopted and made their own and now holds out to others to see if they "get it." If they speak the same language. If their feelings are conjugated in the same tense.
But in order to get there, the artist must be prepared to bleed, to fumble, to create things that have personal value because they're a part of the journey to connection. The artist must understand it is a great honor to be able to step into the shoes of another. And their audience (whoever and wherever that is) must understand the cost in order to present the feeling in that form.
Like anything, art can be mutilated. It can be created for a selfish purpose. It can destroy the audience and its creator. I feel like, at that point, it looses the privilege of being called art. Because is beautiful, even if it hurts. Because it speaks of truth. And it suggests hope.
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart."