When you admire the brushstrokes of your favourite artist, listen to the music of your chosen band, revel in a performance of an actor you love or read a book by your most respected author, you might feel like you’ve been given a freedom, like you’ve been let out of the box of ordinary life and taken somewhere special, even if it’s only for a short time. But, what do those artists, musicians, actors and writers feel when their chosen path bites them back, when their art hurts or hinders them in return for them creating it or when their struggle is not met with the success it deserves?
Take Ana Mendieta, who has been dead twenty-eight years, but who was recently described as one of the most “significant yet unacknowledged” sculptors, filmmakers and artists of her time. Her 1985 controversial death – she fell from the balcony of her London apartment and her artist husband was acquitted of her murder – seems to interest people more than her art, but her art is arguably more powerful. Unlike her, it lives on….
Think of the writer Joe Orton. Along with his partner, Kenneth Halliwell (a writer in his own right, but often considered Orton’s creative underdog), he embarked on a series of wild library robberies, stealing books neither of them much cared for and then defaced them with stuck-on sexual images. Their partnership promised to be immensely creative in the literary sense, but as Orton grew more popular as a playwright, Halliwell became more convinced that he was, in fact, an artist. He began creating strange collages of images in their shared apartment, creating a dark, tomblike feel to the rooms – and he became gradually more insular and depressed until he finally lost all sense of perspective and tragically killed them both.
The creative arts – including theatre – can be less friendly to the people who make them worth the funding than you’d think. Actress (and wheelchair user) Storme Toolis – who’d already developed a successful acting career, but wanted to study drama at University anyway, was rudely shunned by almost every drama department she visited because the people there didn’t understand what a woman in a wheelchair was doing in their ‘able-bodied’ corridors. Her talent and ambition was overlooked by the people in charge of what most of us would think of as a forward-thinking, anti-prejudice movement. She got a fair reception at Kent, so she chose to study there, but it just goes to show how deeply ingrained intolerance is in our society. You can have what it takes, but not be seen to have what it takes. Thankfully, in that case, Storme knew not to give up on her art.
Art, music, writing and acting represent routes to freedom – in a perfect world. In our world, the real world, they can help an artist discover a way to break free of his/her restrictions, but let’s not forget the possible price – the true danger of being creative.