I've long had a belief that I've carried close to my heart that success and recognition and honest-to-goodness sincere appreciate for one's artistic work is enough to give a human being a certain kind of lasting happiness. I'm not even talking about fame, I'm speaking more about the knowledge that you have touched someone in some way with something you've created--with a laugh, an insight, or a different perspective. I always believed that this kind of knowledge that you've touched lives could make up for the existence of personal problems.
I often operate under the illusion that if I could get my creative work out there to a wider audience, get a fulltime position in my field, have more consistent opportunities to share my work, then I'd be able to achieve a kind of lasting happiness in all areas of my life, not just my artistic life. I know that creative happiness wouldn't cause my personal struggles to disappear, but I have honestly always believed that these struggles would fade enough into the background of my life to leave me feeling a steady, safe sense of happiness that would be enough. If all the right pieces were in place in my creative life, I tell myself, I'd have a Yellow Brick Road of artistic and personal success and happiness winding gaily before me. This is an illusion.
In the past, I believed that while Robin Williams had personal demons and struggles (as we ALL do, artists or not), he had made enough beautiful and meaningful work in his life to save him from being consumed by those demons. I imagined that a lifelong creative career would act as a lifeboat of sorts, capable of buoying its passenger high enough above the water to keep him or her out of the clutches of that deep, cold sea of pain beneath. With the passing of Robin Williams and other artists I deeply admire, I have learned that no such artistic lifeboat exists. Art is not strong enough to save us from the deepest wells of personal despair. Contrary to popular belief, a tortured artist does not mean an invincible human being. A tortured anything eventually leads to loss on all fronts. Don't get me wrong, we should always strive for our highest creative goals and savor the success that follows. I'm simply saying we can't be lured into buying into the idea that creative success will banish the darkness in all areas of our life. We've seen too many artists go before their time to know that this belief is false.
In light of this, let's all make a collective agreement; as actors, writers, painters, creatives and makers and dreamers of any kind. Let's make a pact that we will not let ourselves believe that our personal struggles will vanish into thin air if we become successful and admired. Let's make a pact that we won't ignore our personal pain, believing that one more publication, audition, or achievement will make it go away. Let's make a pact that we will dismantle the myth that to be an artist, we have to live permanently in a deep, dark, terrifying place. Let's tear that myth down, because it's bullshit. Let's teach young people this lesson too, because they need to hear a voice of hope as they prepare to launch themselves as creatives and human beings. Let's stop putting despair on a pedestal as something that's required for genius and creativity. Let's stop insulting optimism and cheer and put an end to glamorizing the tortured artist as the only true artist. Yes, we are all tortured by something. And yes, we are all capable of making something wonderful out of our dark moments, but if we stay too long in those dark moments, we will get swallowed by them. And if we get swallowed, we won't be here to create any more.
I might sound dramatic, but I think this epidemic calls for a revolution. For all our sakes. Rest in peace, Robin.
This is a lovely interview with Robin Williams that I snagged from American Theatre Magazine's Facebook feed: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2065243,00.html