OPINION: Artists need to get out of their heads

Ver Lumod, Reviews Editor

One of my favorite filmmakers, Ingmar Bergman, once talked about the relationship between the artist and his audience in a 1967 interview. He told the story of a wood-carver in medieval China who was tasked with creating a stand for a temple’s bells. Each of his first three attempts met with failure due to motivations of money, love and immortality. The exasperated wood-carver tried again for the fourth time, with one thought in his mind: the process of creating the bell stand. This time he succeeded, and he also gained money, love, and immortality in the process.
What does this tell us about artistry? It mainly involves putting in the work, with the expectation of reaping the rewards later. Bergman has also compared his work as an artist to that of a carpenter, especially in a 1972 interview: “I’m just a man who makes a table or something that is to be used, and the only thing that interests me is that it be used.” It always strikes me how a cinematic legend, whose numerous works explored the silence of God, human relationships, and even the artist’s role, could ever be so modest about every film he has made.
But every time I start working on a project myself, there’s always the temptation to treat it as the greatest work I’ve ever made. In some cases I lose myself to it, writing with the intention of making a profit, or pleasing the unseen audience, or introducing something new and unheard. The task is so great, so monumental, that I eventually lose sight of what I actually want to write about. I overthink, and as a result I lose the motivation to finish what I started.
This is why most of the time I end up consuming, rather than creating, art. At least as a passive spectator I get to enjoy the end product. I find that the best works of art can make you think about life long after you’ve seen, or heard, or read them. I get inspired, and before long the uncontrollable urge to create something develops, as well as the accompanying desire to self-importance. Before you know it, the cycle continues.
Sure, thinking about how your work can measure up to Schopenhauer or Dostoyevsky is a fool’s errand, but we’ve all been there. We’ve all conjured up images of the tortured artist, so concerned with his work that he forgets about the world outside. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, without ever thinking about the possibility that maybe if we made sense of our uselessness in this world, we’d all be better off. Existential crises can be fashionable for a while, but as Camus pointed out, you can embrace this emptiness by living your life however you want it.
In short, one has to start writing.
Don’t worry about the money right now. Stop chasing the latest trends, because they come and go, like sand slipping through your fingers. Stop relying on formulas. Stop oversaturating the market. Instead, start thinking outside the box. Write about yourself. Be creative. It’s like what Scorsese said: “The most personal is the most creative.”
Don’t worry about the critical and/or commercial acclaim (in this case, love) right now. When everyone says they like your work, you’ll know something is wrong. Make art that confronts the audience and makes them face their deepest fears. If we all played it safe, then we’d all become complacent and blind to the things that scare us.
Don’t worry about immortality right now. Stop treating yourself like you’re the second coming. Stop overexerting yourself. Stop and smell the roses, and you’ll find that catching lightning in the moment is actually more preferable to overthinking about what to write. Let your curiosity take control, and you may be surprised by what you’ll find.
When you write with the intention of writing, it will come to you. So start writing. Enjoy the process. And just like the wood-carver, you will reap the rewards.