Addiction + Living With Creatives

Living with me wasn’t easy -until Andrew and I met.

I’d have to say in retrospect, that living with others was Hell. Living with a creative has to be like sharing the same space but on different planes of existence -pretty frustrating for both parties. Whenever I’d get into a heated discussion with some putz from the past, I would find myself back in my studio creating. My creations were never much, but I knew that if I kept building my techniques, continued to build my illustration or photography swipe file, the mere act of creating soothed my wounded soul.

Does removing the self from a hostile environment and creating art become art therapy? I know it [creating art] was always therapeutic, but I needed to continue to create. Formally trained, I don’t believe that my drive was because I was momentarily saddened, but to offset my current job as a pre-press designer –not exactly creative. Perhaps the two fed off each other to maintain the existence of the creating act.

I learned to cut the strings from the hostile environments, got my own place, and continued to pursue freelance more vigorously. At this point, I am no longer faced with sad, stupid arguments that compelled me to sooth the wounded soul.
This time I thrived vs merely survived. I thrived on the research it required to create a strong ID package. I thrived on coupling code with design. I thrived on taking new classes that allowed me to experience a different perspective of illustration. I thrived simply on getting out of bed in the morning.

That’s me in the foreground, thriving.


So, when does the need to create become an obsession? A vice? Or worse, an addiction?
Sylvia White published an article about Living with a Creative and the Necessity of Creating Art for the Artist. She maintains that in addition to basic elements of Maslow’s theory (food, shelter, etc), the artist drive to make art is not an option, but a necessity. The non-artist partners of creatives have a hard time understanding the concept of addiction and how it is related to art making.

Now, living with a creative is interesting -always interesting. The changing, growing, morphing is no longer frustrating… I know, because I’ve finally met my creative match: Andrew. We watch the world around us and happily remain at home, creating. Occasionally, we’ll engage in celebratory festivities, but then find ourselves obsessing over the next phase of production on a project (like watching resin harden) before we have to dress for the fest. I find myself lamenting as I gauge the clock, “Okay, if we have to leave at 6:30, I have to take a shower by 5:50 so that I can dry my hair, dress, put on my game face, and come back down and check the resin. Crap, that’s 40 minutes, I can’t leave the resin for more than 30 minutes. Okay, I won’t shower. I’ll just wash my face, brush my teeth, dress, and check the resin. I’ll put on my game face in the car.”

Like most addictions -I am familiar since my family is riddled with alcohol, street + Rx abuse- I know I go through classic symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of creative work for too long. I get fidgety, breathe deeply several times throughout the interim, pace, become irritable… Some may suffer from physical complaints such as headaches, body aches and often times find themselves depressed for no reason. Miraculously, these symptoms disappear when given the opportunity to work again.

The primary reason: We artists are wired differently than the rest of you, maintains Sylvia White.

Are my obsessions a vice?
Wikipedia’s definition of Vice states that a Vice is a practice or habit that is considered immoral, depraved, and/or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect, an infirmity, or merely a bad habit. Synonyms for vice include fault, depravity, sin, iniquity, wickedness and corruption.

One way of organizing the vices is as the corruption of the virtues. A virtue can be corrupted by non use, misuse, or overuse.

I believe that everyone has a vice; we’re human. A vice is a mere manifestation of a bad habit. But is my habit bad if I create art? I am not necessarily removing myself from population to indulge secretly, because I very publicly display the final piece for show or sale. What vice-riddled individual can show off their end result?

Is my obsessions a virtue?
Opposite of vice is Virtue. The four cardinal (hinge) virtues are Justice, Courage, Wisdom, and Moderation defined by the Greek philosophers. There are Roman, Buddhist, Samurai, Christian, Islamic and other virtues to be considered, but I thought keeping it to the simple 4 would suffice.

Is creating art a virtuous act? Hmm, I really can’t see how normative or moral values play an integral part of creating art.

So, is my obsession a disease?

Habits Begets Addictions, Addictions Begets Disease
My obsession doesn’t cause disastrous consequences on my health, my freedom or the lives of others. I’m not so overly obsessed that I can’t sleep, or choose not to sleep. To control most of those urges, I bring a journal to bed, sketch down ideas, then sleep. Also, I’m not giving up activities. I make sure to plan couple time with Andrew: trips, shows, shopping, dinners, creating… Oops, it snuck in there.

My addiction may be well beyond just scoring a few extra hits of dopamine when I generate an ink trail with my brush. Dr Paulus of UCSD, states that “Addiction is not just about substances. Addiction is about disrupting the processing of pleasure; the balance point is shifted so you keep creating more and more urges, and you keep wanted more and more.”Hmm, so I guess the success in the ink trail ensures positive association, but I believe on a different level of satisfaction. Because I know that I can recreate the pleasure of brush to paper, I am in effect, procuring my own drug. I know the drug will always be there to tap, therefore, I procure daily on a systematic cycle.

In the end, a sale of the final piece does reinforce and reward my motion of leaving the ink trail; it could also elicit beginning stages of ‘disease’.

Perhaps my love of art is really just merely a passion?
Colloquially, addiction refers to something for which a person has a passion. I think this may be a closer label to my state of mind.

Got dopamine?
You can read more about The Science of Addiction in Time’s July 16, 2007 issue.
NPR has an online PODcast on Science and the Origins of Addiction.

All I know, that if ever I’m hospitalized for my addiction, eh, passion, just make sure to pass me my brushes, pencils, and paints.

Meanwhile, my obsession of making a better composition can be found with this revised Carousel Horse. I felt the need to add my calligraphic strokes to it.


Carousel Horse With Quote

PS. Don’t be surprised if I go back and modify this time and again; it’s just another obsession.

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5 thoughts on “Addiction + Living With Creatives

  1. Jeanne Rhea says:

    This is a great post. I sure can relate to the part of committing to an “appointment” and then dreading taking the time off as I want to continue to create/play with whatever is on my plate. I could really become a hermit if I did not have to go out to get a supply for creating something!

  2. CREATIVEGoddess says:

    Definitely. Selling one’s wares to both retailers and directly to customers helps me keep my feet planted on the ground.

  3. Natasha says:

    awesome article! I notice that my best work seems to be done when I deeply angry or sad. It’s so strange.. I do of course notice that when I am really happy, I can paint too. It seems however that I do it most for relief and therapy. That’s how I began as a child..

  4. Dr. Bob says:

    Lisa:
    Remember, The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God and God is the Creator. So it is no surprise that we humans are creative. It just comes out more clearly in some, like yourself. Just think how restless God must have been before He said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Think if that when you look at something new that you create, and when you see it, it is good.

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