Our life may be a straight line, upwards, towards more freedom, more self. But only in the ultimately free situation, I realized that pure freedom will never make me happy. It is the restraining and comforting presence of other people, of the world, that ultimately brings fulfillment.
Sometimes, people ask me why I want to be an artist. The superficial answer is: “because I wanted it when I was sixteen, but life wouldn’t let me and now finally I have broken away from those chains.”
But there is more to it.
I see being an artist as the final step of a life long development process. Let me explain.
I tend to split my life in a number of maturity phases, roughly like this:
- Infant – up to 5 years old – The ignorant period in which you sort-of ‘unfold’ like the bud of a flower
- Pupil– 5-18 years old – The marveling period in which you start to discover the world around you
- Student– 18-25 years old – The confusing transition from innocence to taking responsibility for your own life
- Employee – 25-48 years old – The years that you start a family, fit in and contribute to society, in your way
- Entrepreneur – 48-57 years old – The realization that you can take control of your own life and shape the world around you, well, at least a bit
- Artist – from 57 years old – The understanding that, once you completed your life duties, ultimately life is freedom in restraint
You can compare it with the growth cycle of a tree :1. you start as a bud that becomes a flower, 2. the flower is pollinated and becomes a fruit, 3. the fruit falls off the tree and starts growing as a little tree, 4. the grown tree bears fruit itself, 5. the tree fulfilled its reproduction duties and acts as protection for the younger trees, 6. the old tree has no more purpose than just to be, Dasein.
By the way, this makes me wonder. Why has life, evolution if you wish, come up with this solution of ever producing and growing new generations? Why can we not simply clone identical – mature – copies of ourselves? Why do new generations have to learn everything we know anew? And, why do we age at all? Why do we not live forever? Interesting questions … but not for now.
In terms of personal development the leading thread in all of this to me is the balance between freedom and restraint.
My life has been the gradual process towards finding or creating my own individuality, individualism and freedom. I suppose this course of life is – at least somewhat – typical for many of us, or at least for what many of us would want. The temptation of individuality and freedom.
In my case it goes like this:
In our infant years we are totally dependent of mom and dad, completely restrained to whatever they deem good. As a pupil we start to intuitively feel that there is something like a ‘self’, self-determination, although we are still very poor at it; when I was sixteen, I didn’t – want to – see the limitations of the world: I was going to become an artist, I was going to conquer the world. As a student, I started to understand that ‘you guys’ would not simply let me subdue the world; at least to a degree, I would have to fit in. As an employee, I fitted in into the regime of the world around me; and I must say, it felt comfortable, it really was: I was part of the mainstream group, blended in nicely, and was very happy raising my young family. But as the years progressed, my need for freedom, for ‘self’ became stronger and stronger, until finally I said goodbye to my boss and started my own self-employed business. I gradually became a real entrepreneur, with all the freedom, but also responsibilities that come with it – ultimately understanding, that I had replaced a boss with a new restricting regime. Now, as an artist, I feel the strong need to close the circle and bring harmony between personal freedom and restraint from the world around me.
I want to be ‘myself’ but myself cannot exist without the world around me
It is my attempt to align reality and the realities that I create to shape myself. It is grounded in the deep understanding that “I want to be ‘myself’ but myself cannot exist without the world around me”. The world around me is part of who I am, who I have become. It is the feeling of ‘warm grounding’ that being ‘myself’ means being part of the world, feeling safe in the cozy rabbit hole, which means living with the people around me. I guess, it all comes down to the way our brain is wired during the course of evolution. Survival is the main driver. And without the world around me there is no survival of the self. Freedom in restraint.
The world around me is part of who I am, who I have become
So, it is funny. You may say that the ‘line’ from infant to entrepreneur is a straight upward line, towards more freedom, more self. But only in the ultimately free situation of the entrepreneur, I realized that pure freedom – although it may exist – will never fulfill me. It is the restraining and comforting presence of other people, of the world, that enables survival and ultimately brings fulfillment. We will have to deal with each other, or become extinct – at a personal level, and as a species on Earth.
That is what – my – art is all about. Life. Living. Being human. Freedom in restraint.
So why artist?
Well, first of all, because I like to create, I like to be free in my own process of creation. Also, I like to be a valued member of the artistic community and the art world at large. I like to enjoy art and use it as a stimulus for my own thinking.
But, above all, being an artist may be the most extreme form of the tension between freedom and restraint. As an artist you want freedom of creative expression. But you also want people to appreciate your art and collectors to buy your art at a valuing price – as a sign of recognition of yourself as an artist. And that is a huge restraint.
As an artist you continuously fight the battle between the Vincent Syndrome and Rembrandt Inc.
In my view, being an artist is the ultimate expression of tension between freedom and restraint. An eternal battle, beautifully representing the battle of life.
But there is more
There is more. But I’m still struggling to find the right words. It’s about contribution, growing or improving your contribution in life. It’s about purpose, about raison d’être. And maybe, it’s about leaving a legacy.
No, better though, it is about creation.
I would say that in the first phase of your life, your youth (infant, pupil, student), you learn, you take in, you absorb, you consume. You build up ‘debt’ to society, so to say. In the second phase of your life, your family life (employee), you are part of society and equally take and give – you are part of society to make a living for your family, and you deliver products and services in your work – doing what you are told, basically. In the third and last phase of your life, the wisdom years, you pay back your debt to society by providing your experience, wisdom and creativity through new (business) ventures and the realization of your insights in contributions to society. It’s about giving back. And it’s about improving our survival chances as a species.
And, as an artist, you give back insights, things you learned during the course of your life. And, maybe, you give back by bringing joy from beauty, and affirmation of who we are: identity and meaning.
— (Afterthought, June 11, 2023)
Actually, the artist phase also completes the life circle from child through adult back to child. Because, doesn’t being an artist also imply to be a child, a bit? At least in the way that you like to play without the constraints of the chores, duties and responsibilities that an adult has (to perform).
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up
— Pablo Picasso
Well, my answer to Picasso’s question would be that one can create the conditions in one’s life that one can allow himself to become an artist again, after having fulfilled one’s duties.
And, I mean that in the way of the broadest possible interpretation of the word ‘artist’, that is “creator”, creator of beautiful things, creator of great experiences, creator of profound insights, creator of contageous joy, creator of what I always call ‘warm grounding’. Based on wisdom from lifelong experience, based on human emotion of relatedness.