Depressive plunges are the most reliable thing in my life. I’ve got it down to a circadian rhythm.
Just as reliable are the ideas accompanying said episodes, some brand of ‘I don’t have what it takes, I’m too depressed to be an artist’. It’s all fantastically predictable.
On one such occasion I had just been compiling a list of books for my website. Impulsivly I read a manga I remembered liking a few years ago, My lesbian Experence with Lonelyness, and proceeded to devour the authors entire catalog in a single sitting. It was as if my line of thinking about life and art had driven itself into the mud far enough to come to an absolute standstill, and here was the other path I couldn’t see.
Nagata Kabi, from as far as her work says about her life, Is definitively not more physiologically stable than I am. She’s probably worse off, if such a thing can be quantified. And this is profoundly significant. I heard once that becoming a professional comic book artist is about as rare as becoming a NFL player. The statistics are undoubtedly different in Japan, but nonetheless this carries a lot of assumptions. To be the best of the best, the cream of the crop, it’s culturally assumed there is one way to go about it. Namely a successful suppression of emotions. You want to be a pro athlete? (or any other desirable position) Get your life together! Train like a machine! Work all the time! Especially when you don’t want to!
The art community has wholeheartedly embraced this philosophy. My art journey started with listening to Marc Brunet say “study fundamentals 4 hours a day for 2 years and you’ll get an art job.” But if this is what you need to become an artist: commitment, dedication, level headedness and the like, the age old question arises: Why are so many great artists complete psychological trainwrecks? It’s an undeniable fact, and the teachers of art have seemingly no explanation.
To be clear: It’s a mistake to think artists are successful because they’re unstable. They’d be innumerably more common if that was the case. Artistic success is a whole different ball game.
This is what Nagata Kabi helped me see. Her ability to be frightfully relatable brought into sharp contrast the difference between us: She creates with her emotions, I create in spite of them. Take the feeling of loneliness for instance. I have experienced loneliness my whole life, but I hardly ever think about it. I’ve learned not to, because having meltdowns is inefficient, you’ll never get your 4 hours in that way. Reading Nagatas’ work, it dawned on me that she could relate to me far better than I could relate to myself.
I do think there is a path to the great artist. It’s not arbitrary and it doesn’t require an acutely tragic backstory. It’s the path of emotional connectedness. Precisely the opposite direction from the path every non-artist takes. Repressing emotions is actually pretty easy. It’s an expectation from the very foundation of culture. The artist's job in society then is a bit like a mortician. To do the dirty work of inspecting what the culture must kill to move forward: the inconvenient emotions. Look at any important artist and I think you’ll find it isn’t their pain that makes them unique, but their ability to feel.