An accusation with which artists have been confronted since time immemorial is that they’re excessively concerned with themselves. No matter whether it’s in music, in film, or in literature, to say nothing of the world of acting—again and again, artistic work is characterised as a deeply self-therapeutic, usually vainglorious and positively self-obsessed act.
Art as something tantamount to uninterruptedly revolving around oneself—with artists being creatures who confuse monomania with actual work.
Such attributions are typically made by people who pursue other occupations—occupations that are apparently perceived as more down-to-earth. Which brings us to a second thing of which cultural workers are accused: that they float above things a bit, disconnected from the concrete and real. An impression that, like all clichés, has never been truly accurate—even if, as with all stereotypes, it may indeed contain a grain of truth.
The fact is that the only material that artists truly possess is themselves. Sure, they have the tools of their trade, the things one learns at arts universities or as an autodidact. The technique that’s required in order to play an instrument, write, or act. Proper breathing onstage, how to handle a movie camera or editing software.
But when the object is to imbue music, words, and thoughts with feeling, all that’s really available to them is the subjective world that they experience. Personal pain, crises they’ve overcome, self-doubts. Their fear of failure, the joy they take in success, those insecurities about every new project that never really seem to stay away for good. These are all emotions with which artists can not only reach their audiences but also touch them. And in order to manifest such emotions, they simply do have to explore their own selves—and go where it hurts. That’s neither romantic nor mythical, nor is it in any way glamourous. It’s just part of the job. Often enough the most unpleasant part.