This past winter, Scott McCloud's latest graphic novel, The Sculptor, was released. And last night, when I found myself with a bit of extra money, I decided I should finally pick it up. And to be perfectly honest with you, I have yet to crack the cover. So, I can't really tell you what it's about. But here's the official synopsis:
David Smith is giving his life for his art--literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn't making it any easier!
And there's something extremely interesting and something that really resonates with me when it comes to that concept, well, the first part anyway. It's hard for me to keep a straight face when I say something like "I'm an artist", so if you can imagine a giant grin on my face as I type: I'd like to consider myself an artist. And that being said, I feel like I would probably, maybe make the same decision the main character did.
One of the most frustrating things about being any kind of artist (it doesn't matter if you're a writer, painter, photographer, or filmmaker, you're still an artist, bud) is the way you want the ability to perform at the level you think you deserve, in terms of skill or notoriety. And most times, it's really disheartening know that you're trying your hardest to get out there and you still aren't seeing any results. At times, it's almost enough for me to want to quit doing what I'm doing or at least stop trying so goddamn hard.
But there's something about making that decision (quitting, not the deal with Death) that scares me even more than the other decision (now I'm talking about the deal with death). If you ask an artist why they do what they do -- no matter what kind of art they specialize in -- they all, essentially, say the same thing: they do what they do because they're compelled to.
It's not something they can really control. It's like they're born with proclivity to paint, draw, write, or tell stories. And it's that predisposition that artists have, that makes quitting seem so scary. I don't mean to sound too cliche here but it's like asking yourself to stop breathing at a constant rate or, maybe, to quit doing something that is so integral, so central to your existence.
And I think that's where the internal struggle for the artist comes in. You were born with a gift or a talent and it's all you want to do, it's all you ever want to focus on. But you were also born into a society that puts emphasis on money and status (I'm not going to go into some rant here, but it's important to be aware of this). So, naturally, you want to be rewarded for your work or, somehow, to your art into your work (which is a Herculean task, itself).
So, then, what are you or we (if I can join in on this for a second) supposed to do when presented with a choice like this one? Do you sacrifice a long, good enough life for a short, success filled one? Part of me feels like that's an easy choice for others to make because life, is obviously worth living, right? But for those of us who have something inside of us that burns, that conceptualizing and creating is something that's intrinsic to who we are, what decision do we make?
Now, personally, I would most likely make the same decision that the main character did in this book. I'm constantly writing, of course I am, but what does it amount to? I'm not in the process of crafting the next great American novel, I'm not pursuing a career in "the field" if you will, and to paraphrase something Henry Rollins said, "I'm from the minimum wage working world and I'm sure I'll end up back there" (I think it went like that). And I'm sure that's where I'm going to be as well.
And not because I don't have drive or determination, I have plenty of that, I have loads of motivation. It's just, well, this is going to sound dumb but, art is hard. It's really hard. And if there was a magical (even though it's a little sinister) way for me to be at my prime as a writer, I would take it. Every single time. Not only for the fame or success that might come from it, but mainly for the ability to constantly create and progress in a way that I don't see myself doing now.
I plan on finally opening the book tonight and maybe Scott McCloud covers these kinds of questions. I'm excited to find out.