When it comes to creativity, there's been a rumor circulating through our species that's as ancient and insidious as "yes, I'll write that book tomorrow." This rumor is whispered whenever something terrible happens to an artist, whenever we discover the truth of a writer's horrific childhood, whenever we mourn the abuse some painter endured that inspired his greatest work.
"Of course, it's terrible," we say, "but look what amazing art it produced!" Tragedy is regarded as practically a necessity to becoming a great artist, to the point that artists who had nice childhoods are often the butt of jokes in movies and media.
I would like to say, as politely and respectfully as possible, that this particular rumor is a steaming pile of pure and utter bullshit.
Don't get me wrong: Artists absolutely can and do create beautiful art as a way to process pain and tragedy. It's just, the way everyone's interpreting that is completely backwards. The art doesn't come because the artist has something to be sad about; the art comes because the artist chooses, against terrible odds, to believe in themselves and their art in the face of horrible circumstances. The fuel for their creative energy is not angst; it's a furious defiance against angst and everything that would shut them down or shut them up.
Art, at its bloody, dirty, pulsing core, is inherently optimistic.
The tragedies, the abuse, the hardships, the spite, all of those things scream at us to not create, to keep our mouths shut, to be silent in the face of the oppressor. And, all too often, they win. For every closeted artist who believes they aren't good enough, that they don't have the right to create, there is a tragic backstory hovering over them, spitting lies into their ear to make sure they keep their mouths shut. That's how the tragedies win.
The artists that create are the ones who ignore those burdens, who push them off and dare to create in spite of everything that has happened to them. Art is inherently optimistic, because to create you have to believe in yourself in a way that many people will tell you is selfish or foolish. Walt Whitman's own brother told him that his poetry wasn't worth reading. Walt Whitman chose to ignore that noise, and published his book himself. It takes a certain level of audacity to look your own circumstances in the eye, to hear the words of anyone and everyone who tells you you can't, and to simply say, "Nope. You're wrong. I'm a creator, I will create, I have it in me -- and here I go." Especially if, as is often the case, you're the only one telling yourself that. If you're the only one who believes you can create something great, if literally no one else agrees with you, and you go ahead and do it anyway?
In almost any other field, that's considered pretty strange, if not outright insane.
And yet, that's exactly what it takes to make art. To write, or paint, or film -- whatever your craft, you have to believe in yourself before anyone else can. That is a wild, audacious, insane level of optimism, and it is anything but tragic.
To make matters worse, most artists face rejection throughout the course of their career. To be a professional artist, you have to keep creating, even when the people you respect in your field tell you to give it up. Across creative industries, the most successful artists are the ones who simply didn't stop. Who put their nose to the grindstone and Just. Kept. Working. Because the more you work, the more you grow your craft -- but you have to actually believe in yourself to work and grow in the first place!
And then, someday, if you're lucky, the people who told you to keep your day job will be the ones calling you the Father of American Poetry (that's Whitman again). If you're unlucky, something less awesome will happen. Maybe you won't be as successful as you want to be. Maybe you won't be successful at all.
But there's no sense in considering that option. Because that will only distract you from creating. You will never know if you don't try; you will never create if you listen to the lies that you don't deserve creativity. You do. Whether or not success comes for you, you do deserve the unbridled joy of your own creative process.
Keep going. Believe in yourself. Choose that wild, untamed optimism -- that's where incredible art is born.