Suffering in the Arts and Academia

I’ve been terribly remiss in updating this blog, and I should have a new post shortly because I’ll get to devote the next few days to my thesis (coughblogcough).

For now, I’ll just provide a link to this Guardian article against suffering for one’s art. The supposedly suffering-induced sensitivity of the artist isn’t exactly the same as the sort of suffering we come to expect from academics, exactly, but it seems to me that the argument isn’t that different. “Academic” could probably be substituted for “artist” in many places throughout this piece. For example:

Assuming that making a sculpture would be assisted by despair or hunger in a way that, say, plumbing wouldn’t be is absurd and insulting. There’s no reason to believe a plumber might be less sensitive than a pianist, or that someone who you’re assuming is more than averagely sensitive couldn’t be broken into sand and teeth by grief. It’s simply cruel to assume that any human being will somehow benefit from punishment. And the cultural white noise that links having a job in the arts to the threat of punishment cuts the arts off from people who could enjoy them, or produce them.

I suppose the myth of the suffering artist is elevated in different ways than the figure of the suffering academic. As the author of this article, AL Kennedy, points out, one might find young artists who cultivate suffering in the belief that that will make them successful writers. For academics, suffering is simply the penance you pay to do noble work (eyeroll), although I suppose you do sometimes find people who compete to work the hardest and sleep the least. I don’t know that that makes it any better or more excusable, though. I ran into a fellow grad student today who said to me, “I was just thinking of you last night, how happy you must be that you aren’t going to do this anymore!” I wonder what ze will ultimately decide to do. As Kennedy writes, “Apart from anything else, I hate to see people being unhappy, and people being self-inflictedly unhappy is doubly sad.”

3 responses

  1. Reblogged this on freeliteraturestuff.

    April 11, 2012 at 11:30 pm

  2. Hi,

    When googling databases for academic blogs (surprisingly sparse amongst a wasteland of blogs dedicated to popculture and ephemera), I happened to stumble upon yours. I found this post really relevant to myself, since I recently decided to go the ‘graduate school’ route in the tough field of art history. The ‘starving artist’ stereotype was certainly a concern to my parents.

    Anyways, I recently started my own blog; if you have any suggestions you’d like to give to a young academic, I’d like to know. Keep in touch! 🙂


    May 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

  3. Interesting to hear your thoughts on the Guardian article. I often go there to see whether there’s anything that can cheer me up about the fact that I spent so many years on a getting a PhD in the humanities but I end up dragging myself away from the site..utterly depressed. It really does deserve it’s nickname “The Groaniad”..since the people who write these articles are depressive or writing to make their readers depressed, groaning and inwards looking.

    June 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

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