Friday, November 28, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

"You can't be an artist without tragedy in your life," my mother-in-law said to me, one morning over coffee.

She was relaying the story of a young girl who went away to art school. On the first day of class, her professor spoke these very words to her. Naturally, she was quite put off, believing herself to be very talented. But you see, this young girl had led a very privileged life, without many worries, and her art evidently reflected it. (I'm assuming her paintings were rather one dimensional, and lacked a certain depth.)

The night before, M-n-L and I read SF's novel, Paper Tiger and were discussing how SF described the tension that is necessary for great art. Her novel, combined with the professor's story of the girl, swirled around in my overly-thinky brain for a day, and I realized that it was true. The only way to really evoke deep emotion in our stories is to have suffered at some level ourselves.

This same day, I had been talking to another writer about his rather long journey towards publication, and how, in retrospect, he could see how everything, good and bad, had prepared him for his eventual success. And I thought about life, and that where we find ourselves today is a direct result of what came before.

Therefore, if we view our lives as artistic masterpieces, our life paintings will be more beautiful if we have endured hardship. And the same goes for our writing. For some odd reason, I found it comforting to imagine that the harder the journey, the more beautiful the story. Not only yours, but the one you will write. And to endure pain is to grow in beauty :-)

P.S. That strange photo is me being overly-thinky while writing this post... and also playing with photo booth :-)


Jeannie said...


Hardygirl said...

When people used to ask Ernest Hemingway about the best early training for a writer, he would invariably answer "an unhappy childhood."

While I don't necessarily think you have to have a horrific childhood to be able to write, you do have to have experienced emotions on a profoundly deep level. And, you have to be able to translate those feelings into words--no small thing!

Great post!


Irene Latham said...

I would add that it's not necessarily that you have the unhappy childhood -- but do you have empathy? Can you imagine it? We all experience loss and pain, and just because we haven't experienced someone else's pain and loss, doesn't mean we can't relate or create a story that resonates. It just means you have to be very good at putting yourself in someone else's shoes. And if you are so lucky, be extraordinarly grateful that you DIDN'T have that awful childhood.

Christy Raedeke said...

Katie, this post is beautiful - and so is the photo.

Katie said...

Thanks Girls! Hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving!

Graeme Stone said...

Tragedy?! I'm sick of it. A life marred by tragedy is the best venue to escapism I've ever found. I know a writer who's on "lists" and wins awards, but ye gads what dull stuff; I think he's been through nothing. So on that score I agree. Me? Three deaths in my immediate family, alcoholism, mental illness, Alzheimers, and not a fortune in sight to save us all. I'm not sure if it's made me a better writer, but it's made me funny to compensate, and it's made me love escapist writing, film, and stories. I think there's a relationship between the two, but it hasn't kicked in yet to make me the next M. Scott Peck or Maeve Binchy. Perhaps I've admitted too much, but that's my 2 cents. Maybe I'll have to be a wise old man before it all sifts down into a thing that is true, beautiful, and yet tragic too.

Kirie said...

I've found your blog via Irene's Wordloversunite, and I'm so glad I did.
I love this notion that our lives are masterpieces, and all the more beautiful because of endured hardship. I do think growing in beauty can be related to endurance--or empathy for hardships, as Irene points out.
That said, sometimes the hardships of a person's life are what limits him/or her from actually making the art or expressing the nuances they've experienced. Maybe that's why that alchemy of talent and experience is so hard to find...or maybe that's why good writing so often happens only after time has burnished our lives a bit and given us some experiences to draw or or empathize with...

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