Why Artists Suck

August 2003

Artists suck.

So do poets and philosophers and people who introspect. I came to this conclusion empirically, but tonight I was talking to my friend Dan who is doing a PhD in psychology at the University of Washington, and he said that professional researchers came to the same conclusion (that is, equating the phrases "find less satisfaction in life," "are less happy overall," and "tend towards depression and suicide" with the generic word "suck." Personally I don't think it's too much of a stretch).

Why do they suck? Because artists (and poets and philosophers and people who introspect) make life difficult for themselves. They ask questions that have been asked and gone unanswered for the past four thousand years of human existence and that they know they won't find answers to, but they ask anyway. And the questions that have already been answered, they go on asking. It's a real affront to the spirit of progress.

Take, for example, the meaning of life. Why can't we accept forty-two and move on? Or, for that matter, how about Jesus and the Bible and any number of things that we believe to be true but keep on questioning anyway?

But no. And you know what else? A normal decent human being will see a homeless man on a street corner. He will share his sandwich and then look for practical opportunities to care for the poor. He will participate in soup kitchens and sign up his children to volunteer for a year in the Peace Corps. An artist, on the other hand, will share his sandwich and then take off for a desert in central Mongolia where there is no one in sight of a fifty mile radius and come back a year later with a poem about stars. Or maybe nothing at all, except a profound sense of silence and wonder. And he will feel bad because he really wanted to help the man on the street, he really loved him and wanted to give him something of beauty and meaning, only it didn't work because the only other people that count beauty and meaning as needs are other artists. For everyone else there's just food and water and vitamins and shelter. Artists painting and writing and playing music for other artists while half the world goes to bed hungry at night.

Even when no one is telling the artist how useless his work is, the artist is telling himself. Deep down he knows exactly why his work matters and can think of a hundred sound and logical arguments to all of his feelings of inadequacy, and he knows that he should just shut up and get to work, but he can't. So what does he do? He wastes his time fiddling away at these questions that he already knows the answers to (see above), and he becomes a deep and complex and tortured man while his contemporaries are having the time of their lives rescuing orphans from merciless guerilla warriors in the heart of the Peruvian jungle.

Stupid artists and poets and philosophers. I hope never in a million years to marry or become one.

Do you ever wonder if you hadn't been the kind of person that you are, with your particular talents and temperament, what kind of person would you like to have been? For first choice I would have liked to be a great distance runner or ballerina. And for second choice a very confident scientist or a spy. Artist wouldn't even have made my top fifteen. I'm telling you, someone rearranged my choices after I put them down... though I do wonder sometimes, whether anyone would have liked to be like me.

What would you have picked?