In his beautifully descriptive memoir, The Storyteller, Dave Grohl has written his life thus far, including time spent in Washington State in 1990. He and Kurt Cobain had moved into an apartment in Olympia, and Kurt was writing what would eventually become Nevermind.
Dave’s memory is vivid enough that you feel yourself living in that apartment. They were poor. No housekeeping was happening, everything was dirty, and a turtle in a tank was living there, too. As his account of that time makes clear, the reader is brought to a bleak winter with two-thirds of Nirvana cohabitating in self-imposed poverty for Kurt to write and Krist Novoselic and Dave to interpret his vision.
Reading this passage made me think about the ineffable spark of human ingenuity. It cannot be manufactured, no matter what they tell you, and it cannot be bought; it is, however, accessible to those who have learned how to invite it in. Inviting it can make you nuts, though, and I would put that delicately if I could. To be sincere about your work doesn’t mean it will make you famous or rich, just as fame will not ensure a shelf life. I think the secret to this is not a secret at all, and that is that if you’re an artist, no matter what kind, focus on your craft as honestly as you can. Try not to think about the starving part.
A room of one’s own is beautiful (thank you, Virginia). Halfway through college, I knew I’d be making art for the rest of my life, which meant I would always need a studio. It is the one thing I’ve insisted on in every place I’ve ever lived as an adult. It is sacred. You can do whatever you need to do to court that spark to make your art, and I would never expect someone’s studio space/room/alcove/hallway/detached garage/spare bedroom/fire escape/desk, or kitchen table to look cute. It doesn’t have to have matching gingham curtains and pillows, or, forgive me, mine shouldn’t. I have never put too much stock into the aesthetics of my studio because I’ve been there to work, not decorate.
To be receptive and open for the duration of your writing, alone and consumed by thoughts long enough for the paint to dry, is only sometimes fun. You do it because you don’t know how not to do it. That’s the spark part- being driven enough to write it down so that you can perform, film, dance, sing, or paint it. You can’t let go. Then comes the self-consciousness of exposure. You’ve spewed all those dark and happy secrets onto the canvas and stage. Onto the pages of cyberspace, and most of the stuff you’ve spent hours on won’t even see the light of day. I’m sorry; did someone say this was easy?
We must continue to support the arts so that those of us so inclined can go crazy on our own time and, now and again, make stunning, stellar works of brilliance for the betterment of humanity. For the next several generations to learn from and be defined by. No pressure.