Why artists are crazy.

Okay, so that’s kind of a harsh generalization. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how artists see the world and why it makes us different. Bear with me, this one is a little heavy on the philosophy and light on cartoon boobies.

My fellow artists and I have often been accused of being moody, sensitive, reclusive, and weird. I’m not denying that those things can be (and are) true. But it usually comes as an accusation, because we can be difficult to deal with. Maybe I can shed some light as to what’s going on upstairs (at least in my upstairs) so that others can understand why we are the way we are.

• It could be theorized that artists are unhappy with reality as it is, and therefore seek to reinterpret it into a form that satisfies them, and share that with the world in the hopes that others might understand them better. I don’t necessarily believe this to be true for all artists, but I think it’s a distinct possibility for many. Personally, I’m not unhappy with reality, but from a cartoonist’s perspective, I do think it’s more fun to explore the possibilities of reworking it to show how much funnier it could be!

• Artists are blessed with a talent (or work their butt off to acquire it) that not everybody possesses, and therefore feel a responsibility to utilize that talent to its fullest extent. This can feel like a burden. By the same token, artists may feel like their only possible career choice is to be an artist. When you have no other skills to fall back on, this can be frightening, and can be the cause of a ton of pressure to do exceptional work all the time or risk being left behind in the field, or worse — unemployed. In other words, I can’t fix cars or build houses, so I better draw good all the time.

• An idea is like a bodily function to a creative. Hear me out on this. Whether you’re a visual artist, a musician, or a performer, ideas may strike at any time. If this inspiration is not acted upon, it festers and percolates in the mind. It becomes a distraction, or even an obsession. You gotta get it outta you or it will drive you crazy, make you irritable, or even physically sick. I’m not kidding. A great new idea needs to come out in the form of some new work, after which point the artist feels relief as he/she then has the freedom to move on to the next new idea. And chances are, there are more ideas up there than there is time to make them all reality, which means those ideas get backed up. That can cause anxiety or depression, because we don’t want any of those ideas to be forgotten by not bringing them to fruition (inspiration is most powerful when it’s acted upon ASAFP), and we also just have the sheer burning desire to make them happen because we love what we do and that’s what keeps an artist going.

• We don’t see the world like non-artists do. Here’s one that may really make you think. If you’re not an artist, and you look at a tree, you see a tree. There it is. It’s a tree, in all its natural treeness. Do you know what I see when I see a tree? I see colors, shadows, highlights, and interacting shapes, and I think about how I would draw them versus how I would paint them versus how I would tattoo them. And it’s not just trees. It’s clouds. Buildings. Dogs and cats. People. Flowers. Water. I observe the way cloth drapes and folds and try to understand why it behaves the way it does so that I can accurately render it with a pencil without referring to a photo. I observe the way light hits an object and what kind of highlights and shadows it creates, and think about how I would capture that look with paint. I am constantly processing this influx of visual information in the hopes that I can either A) accurately regurgitate it when I need to, or 2) reinterpret it into cartoon form. All the time. When I drive. When I walk around. When I watch TV or a movie. I’m examining everything. Would that drive you batshit crazy? Actually, I usually find it to be a fun mental exercise. But there are certainly times I wish I could just turn my brain off and just see the clouds in the sky, rather than making mental notes of where the sun is in relation to them and why one part is lavender and another is orange and another is white. Which brings me to the next point…

• An artist needs to understand how things work and are built in order to reproduce them. In my own case, as a pin-up artist, I need to understand a fair amount about women’s hairstyles, makeup, and clothing in order to draw my girls well. I tattoo enough flowers that I can whip up a lily or a rose on a moment’s notice. But by contrast, I don’t draw a lot of vehicles. So if you ask me to draw a motorcycle off the top of my head, it’s gonna have a gas tank, a seat, some handlebars, and two wheels with a jumble of shit in between them because I don’t know what an engine looks like or where the exhaust pipes attach or where the oil filter goes. Even if I have a couple reference photos, the best I can do is copy what I see because I don’t know how any of that stuff actually works. So the more we can understand, the better we can draw something when we’re asked to. And that is a LOT of knowledge to for an artist to acquire and maintain!!

• We want to do better. I don’t know about you, but I can always start picking out the problems with my work within hours of completing it. So I’m constantly striving to improve, which is a good thing. It’s a great thing, actually. But it’s a lot of hard work. And when all you do is work, it’s constant pressure.

I don’t mean to sound like it’s miserable being an artist. On the contrary, I love it and I wouldn’t want to be anything else! But I don’t think a lot of people really understand how much is going on in an artist’s head when they jump to the conclusion that we’re just mood-swingin’ weirdos.

Anybody agree? Disagree? Have anything to add?