Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm fascinated by the role artists play in our civilization, how we are perceived, and the function we serve in society. I majored in anthropology for a reason, and these are the things I think about when I'm not thinking about pottery. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've already read me getting up on my soapbox about how the culture worships the artist as an almost supernatural being, yet is always looking for an excuse to knock us down. Also-- and this is a side note-- we are expected to work only for the love of our art, not for money. How many fucking letters do I get from organizations totally unknown to me, asking me to donate my work? Per ca pita dollars, more than Donald Trump gets, I promise you that. Artists are seen as especially gifted. Yet we are also generally seen as tortured, ego maniacal, and crazy, just to name a few things that actually apply to me.

I got going on these thoughts again today because I've been regularly checking in on this blog called The Happiness Project. It's a blog dedicated to test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study done on creating more happiness in our overindulged and spoiled western lifestyle, where stores dedicated to selling $78 scented candles abound, but happiness does not. I find this site appealing because what it really seems to be about is leading more balanced and thoughtful life. And I'm interested in how this gimmicky website can actually educate people about leading a more meaningful existence, if not necessarily a more happy one. There was a post the other day titled Are Artists Unhappier than Non-Artists? Of course I had to dive right into that one, because it feeds all of my angst about society's stupid ideas about artists. My observation has been that artists are no more happy or unhappy than the culture at large. I think there is a general desire to have a romantic vision of the artist as tortured and neurotic to balance out the fact that we are supremely gifted. I personally think this vision is ultimately undermining to the artist, and encourages a lot of unfortunate behavior at art schools. But it also helps maintain the artist status as an exalted outsider, which is maybe what we need to get people to leave us alone so we can do our work. "I can't do the dishes right now, I'm having a break down. Now get outta my studio!"

I know that I am there is not an unhappier person on the planet than an artist who is not-- or can't -- make work. But unhappy just because we're artists? I don't think so. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert touches on a lot of these points in the talk I posted below. Please watch.


  1. Whitney, thank you SO MUCH for this TED talk. I'm going to watch it everyday for a while, and see what happens.

  2. Awesome talk, thanks so much for sharing it with us! I love her writing, nice to hear how inspirational of a speaker she is too.

  3. This post really changes my view on things, it's great to see your insights as well as others. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and hers, it's really useful!

  4. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Whitney I love your blog. Awesome post dear.

  5. Anonymous8:27 AM

    i saw that talk before... she's got some great ideas, i love the historical aspect that she provides too, as far as happiness, i've found more success at aiming for contentment

  6. Anonymous5:57 PM

    I think part of it also has to do with it being impossible for some people to just be happy for other people. Maybe they see the being artistic as something that they don't have and so they talk down to those of us who are artists. Some people see others succeed and get all pissed off because it isn't them so they come up with all kinds of derogatory labels to lessen our talent. It's just of world of take, take, take, and no give.

  7. I agree with you - artists are unhappy when they can't create. I had an awful dream about that last night - people were stopping me from getting to my class and I was getting so stressed I wanted to cry. (Hmm... sounds a little like real life when I think about it)

    Creativity brings great joy so I don't understand how artists are supposed to be so unhappy.

    What was said in the talk is very true though - now that I have created some pieces that I am happy with I do wonder if I will ever be able to do it again.

  8. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I often think I get away with "crazy" behavior because people just brush it off as "Oh! She's a crazy artist!"

  9. I can't tell you how many times I hear the stereotype spoken by various folks about crazy or moody artists. I also know some folks who excuse others rude behavior saying "oh that's how artististic types are". Great post.

  10. hmm. i'm actually a generally happy and easy-going person. it just so happens that i'm the most inspired and most productive when i'm miserable. grief, for some reason, brings out the best in me. when i'm happy i'm not as inspired to create. it's my therapy i guess. i think it's striving, it's that desire to get out of that negativity that, in a way, forces me to create my best.

    i also see the same in music and the like. i listen to a lot of rap--gangsta rap and punk rock. i feel like there's more heart in an artist's older stuff. and once they start earning lots, it all gets homogenized and monotonous--at least the ones I listen to have.

    with that said, i'd rather be a happy, no-angst person than a miserable one. which is why i make stuff.

    excellent post whitney!

  11. I too get tons of requests for donations. I don't think they realize that most artists are at the bottom of the totem pole when it come to personal wealth. I've decided to pick my own charities (animal ones mostly) and let the parents who had all the kids donate to their schools instead. Karin

  12. Whitney,
    Thank you so much for sharing this! It was the beam of positive light I needed today! You're work is lovely & your success inspiring!
    Thanks for the support!
    Chrissy :)