One of those cliches about creative expression is to “Write what you know.”
What about “Create from what you know and who you are.”
Lena Dunham is the creator, executive producer, and one of the stars of the HBO series “Girls” about four young women living in New York. She bases the acclaimed show on many of her own experiences.
In a newspaper interview, she was asked, “How do you manage an awareness of the pitfalls of your age while you’re still in the midst of it?”
Dunham: “I’ve been in therapy since I was 7; that’s probably helpful. The way I process my experiences is to translate them into some artistic form. I don’t know another way to get through them.”
From The Contenders: Lena Dunham of ‘Girls’, June 07, 2012|By Lisa Rosen, Special to the Los Angeles Times.
(Photo: Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Dunham, and Zosia Mamet from the series.)
(Dunham got a reported $3.5 million deal to write a memoir and advice book for twentysomething women.)
One of the most common experiences of many creative people is anxiety.
Psychotherapist and mystery author Dennis Palumbo notes that famed psychiatrist Rollo May “reminded us, real creativity is not possible without anxiety. In many ways, it’s the price of admission to the artist’s life.”
Palumbo adds, “Which means, for those artists who have the courage to embrace their own fears, to co-exist with potentially crippling anxiety and create anyway, the rewards can be significant.
“Consider artists as diverse as Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King and James L. Brooks, Anne Rice and Phillip Roth, Richard Pryor and Diane Arbus.
“They use who they are—all of who they are—as the wellspring of their creativity. Just as it is for yours.”
From his post Turning Anxiety Into Creativity.
See many more Anxiety/Stress posts.
The idea that anxiety or other mental health challenges are necessary or a key element of creative life is part of the destructive “mad artist” mythology: that you need to suffer to be creative.
It just isn’t true.
As musician Sting comments,
“Do I have to be in pain to write? I thought so…I tried that for a while, and to a certain extent that was successful.
“I was ‘The King of Pain’ after all. I only know that people who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death.”
– From my article “Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?
Lucy Daniels and therapy for artists
Dr. Daniels is a writer and clinical psychologist. She “dropped out of high school at 16 and spent five years in psychiatric hospitals in treatment for severe anorexia nervosa.
“In 1956, less than a year after her release, a novel she had written in the hospital, Caleb, My Son, was published by Lippincott and became a best seller.”
That profile is from the site of her Lucy Daniels Foundation, a “private, nonprofit organization that fosters personal development, emotional freedom and a deeper understanding of creativity through education, outreach, and psychoanalytic treatment and research programs.”
In 2002, Daniels published her memoir, With a Woman’s Voice: A Writer’s Struggle for Emotional Freedom.
Painter Gayle Stott Lowry creates “Allegorical Oil Paintings With Focus on Light” according to her site, where you can see many examples.
In her biography on the Tyndall Galleries site, she makes a statement many artists can relate to:
“Creating my artwork is a very introspective process for me. It is my way of dealing with what is invisible and making it real. It is my means of seeking truth and clarity.
“Although my work, like most creative work, could be seen as autobiographical, it also is reflective of this time in our existence and the issues we all face.
“My best paintings encourage the viewers to confront something within themselves and consider alternative points of view.”
Lowry also writes candidly on the Lucy Daniels Foundation site about her mental health challenges impacting her creative expression: “A few years ago, my pain became so unbearable that I was no longer able to contain it and maintain a facade in my personal life or in my work.”
Continued in Part 2.