DISCUSS: Do we have to LOVE what we do - and let it

DISCUSS: Do we have to LOVE what we do - and let it "kill" us?

By Rachel England 09/05/13

DISCUSS is a series in which IdeasTap members who are part of our Creative Space programme debate issues around the arts. Today Rachel England considers whether you need to be consumed by passion for your work to be considered an artist... 

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

This maxim gained substantial exposure last month when classical pianist James Rhodes wrote a piece for The Guardian enthusing about the importance of artistic creation and chasing passions (it was actually transgressive writer Charles Bukowski that first coined the phrase back in his literary heyday, but such is the simulacrum of artistic culture).

Rhodes’ much-shared article set a metaphorical fire under the backsides of many creatives I know, and many non-creatives also. Everywhere, people were opining about their business of creation, fuelled by newly-found vigour and enthusiasm for the stuff they love. It was quite an inspirational period – much like the first week of a new year.

But at the heart of Rhodes’ article is an assumption that you must commit everything – body and soul – to your creative niche. That it should be what gets you out of bed in the morning, and drives you forward regardless of the weather, your love life or your bank balance. That, to a degree, it should underscore your very purpose in life.

But should it? Is it not enough to just quite like what you do? At the beginning of my creative career, and even now, peers would confide that they felt like frauds for pursuing an artistic avenue that they very much enjoyed, but wouldn’t put their lives on the line for. Not in the way that some in their industries would – going without sleep or food for days, enduring professional and emotional abuse at the hands of prominent cultural influencers, forsaking relationships, becoming increasingly introverted, and so on.

Is artistic work – of whatever kind – therefore undermined and less valuable because its creator is not willing to let their craft metaphorically kill them? Does this mean that the artist simply doesn’t love what they do enough, and is therefore less worthy within the creative community?

Rhodes has set aside “normal life” in order to achieve the kind of excellence that only comes with hours, days and months of painstaking practice – such skill doesn't come easy, after all. But what of creatives that have found a happy equilibrium between their artistic work, and life outside it? Or indeed individuals that enjoy their work most of the time but could not in honesty say they love it unconditionally?

Is the quality of your life worth sacrificing for art? Rhodes would likely say yes, because for him such sacrifices deliver a phenomenal emotional pay off. But not subscribing to this school of thought does not diminish artistic value or creative worth; surely the end result is art regardless of the process used to get to it? Such a process simply marks another way of working.

Ultimately, life's as kind as you let it be. Bukowski said that, too. 


The opinions expressed in DISCUSS do not necessarily represent those of IdeasTap.


What do you think - do we artists have to let what we love "kill" us or can you find a more balanced approach? Let us know, below!

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Image by Eric Tastad, on a Creative Commons license.

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