I have a little life plan I call the Golden Pyramid. And you’re going to hate it. But here it is: if you want to get ahead in the arts then don’t have a sofa, don’t have a television and don’t have a relationship. Eschew these three things and your prospects will soar.
You see, contentment is the enemy of ambition. Comfort is the death of creativity. And distraction, affection and responsibility can be the nails in your artistic coffin before you’ve even had a chance to pick out the hymns. So, if you're single for a couple of years while you try to get your career off the ground, you may be very lucky.
See? I told you you’d hate it. But I’m afraid it’s borne out. Mozart was 26 when he got married – giving him a solid 21 years of single life in which to practice the harpsichord; Mary Wollestonecraft, the self-titled “first of a new genus” of independent female writers, wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women as a single lady; Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote that, "The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions," and may well have never been in a relationship with man or woman.
Cyril Connolly may have claimed that, “there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway" but I’ll also take a wager that many a great artist was ruined by the body in the bed. Sometimes it’s only when we take our brains and bodies away from the sweat and dust of sexual commitment that we actually have the time and energy to make anything great.
A quick look over your friendship group will probably bear this out – the people with cosy homes and loving partners may very well be happier than the single people. I mean, come on, there are wheelie bins more happy than single people. But the single people will be busier – they will be free to say yes to every opportunity, be able to change their plans to suit work demands, be used to socialising with near-strangers and more likely to devote their attention to their own achievements. They get shit done.
So, let’s look again at some of the so-called “problems” with being single and see just how problematic they really are:
Nothing will draw forth poignancy, insight, self-reflection and the urge to move forward like grief. And heartbreak is a grief. John Milton, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Billie Holiday, Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Kane, John Keats, Charlotte Brontë , William Shakespeare and Joan Baez all produced some of their most exquisite work while bent, howling, over a breaking heart. So, horrible and hard as it is, try to see this as a creative opportunity.
“An artist is always alone – if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.” So wrote Henry Miller in the Tropic of Capricorn and so read I, alone, in a field in France last summer. Sometimes a bit of isolation, a bit of loneliness, a bit of longing, silence and forced self-reflection can be a wonderful thing. It makes you actually face up to yourself; what you want, what you’re doing, where you’re going wrong and what you want to achieve. And that never harmed any artist.
Getting kicked in the teeth by romantic rejection, spiteful lovers and frustrating encounters can do you a power of good, creatively. Let's be honest, Billie Holiday didn’t turn Good Morning Heartache into a soul-splittingly beautiful song because her and her boyfriend has just picked out a really nice bedding set.
But, a quick word of warning: while being inspired by disastrous dating is a cathartic and wonderful thing, please respect your ex’s right to privacy. However much you loathe them.
Like I say – comfort is the enemy of creativity. If the urge to get laid is what spurs you to impress, create, take risks and get out there, then that is a marvellous thing. Many a great career was launched by a set of aching loins, of that we can be sure.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to whip myself with nettles and dust off my horsehair shirt.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of IdeasTap.
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Image by Felipe Beiza via Flickr under a creative commons license.