Jean-Paul Sartre remarked that “suffering is justified when it becomes the raw material of beauty.” The idea that art depends on suffering is rooted within commonly accepted myths. This idea suggests that talented artists are likely to be full of suffering and dark emotions and even need to dwell on pain in order to create something interesting. In the East, it is more believed that great works of art come from inner balance and fulfillment.
It is indeed true that many great artists, writers, and thinkers in the world have been tortured souls. A new study, conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found that people who are more creative than average are also more likely than the rest of the population to be treated for mental illness. Over one million patients and family members of patients with a variety of psychiatric conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse and drug use, were studied.
For many years and in different places, I have seen painters who are in intensive meditation retreats and are afraid that the peace they have acquired will rob them of the basis of creativity. I have seen writers who equate balance with incompetence, and serenity with lethargy. Furthermore, actors and musicians were afraid of fullness because they felt it was the last step before sleepwalking or falling asleep in life.
It is clear that sometimes the obstacles we face, the pain we experience at the setbacks that arise, and the risks we take to overcome them can be keys to unlocking our hidden abilities and creativity.
But I genuinely believe that what we really want to achieve through creativity and innovation is courage, not misery. The courage to go beyond limitations, to see things in a different light, and to not settle for the beaten path. We should reinvent ourselves and build new visions.
In one of his teachings in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama told us that art is beautiful because the artist changed while creating it. “What truly contributes to the value of a poem, sculpture, or painting is when through the work, people who enjoy it become more enlightened, more kind, and more deeply aware.” This, of course, is an entirely unique vision of creativity than the one we are used to.
Of course, suffering can lead us to find creativity in the ashes, but we can also achieve it through internal satisfaction, joy, and inner abundance. If we were not feeling such a lack within us, we would not be so lost in the insatiable desires, mindless consumerism, and fierce competition that society encourages. We can approach reality with fresh eyes and walk away from conventional expectations and the expectations of others. And we can do it from the source that springs from within the joy and abundance. Only then will we be able to share the true inspiration.
*Image: Courage, artwork by Mónica Esgueva