You taste the thrill of unfettered creation. Your Muse appears, and you’re off like a lost kite in a whirlwind of ideas.
You ride it. Your productivity soars high; your dreams soar higher.
Caught up in the moment, you promise the Muse everything: you’ll create without inhibition, you’ll work on your art every day, you’ll quit your day job because, dammit, you can do this — and why would you spend one more day doing anything else?
But like a summer storm, your inspiration passes every bit as quickly as it appeared. You feel it only in phantom pains, like a limb that should be there, and suddenly isn’t.
In the wake of inspiration, you feel empty, burned out, perhaps even a little foolish for believing so strongly in yourself. But there’s still the memory, and you know what you could do. What you could be. If only the Muse had stayed a while longer…
And the Apathy makes itself quite at home.
I’ve written previously regarding the ambition of art:
Art itself is a deeper, more intimate ambition. It is the purest ambition: to create, to explore, to take something from inside yourself (a dream, a question, an idea) and make it tangible. tweet
Far from being a bad thing, that ambition, that inspiration is, I believe, the soul of art. And just like the body without its soul, art without inspiration is lifeless.
But don’t forget: a soul without a body is unable to make any impact on the world.
The artist who lives in apathy is like a ghost, existing haunted by what it could do but never did, unable to affect the world around it… but eternally perfect within its own idea of itself.
In order for art to make any impact, we must take the soul — the ambition and inspiration — and join it to the bone and muscle of discipline and craft, topped with a layer of thick skin, for good measure.
There is so much that could be said, but for a first step, it is enough just to recognize the nature of Apathy, and what feeds it.
Apathy Abhors Exposure to New Ideas.
I’m embarassed to admit that I was, for a long time, the writer who thought that, because I was once a prolific reader, I no longer needed to keep that discipline. I just needed to spend all my time writing and mulling over my ideas.
But a lack of exposure to new ideas is just one way the Apathy sets in. It keeps our understanding of Art confined to our own ideas, perspective, personality. For Art, that’s the equivalent of putting a potted plant in your basement and expecting it to grow.
To put flesh to your Ambition, you must constantly breathe new ideas. They shouldn’t all be from your genre, or even your art form. History, sciences, art in all its forms… these will round out your understanding and put your Ambition in the right context.
Apathy Depends on the Pursuit of Perfection
Deeply studying your chosen art form also disabuses you of the notion that art can be perfect. The more I read, the more I make peace with my craft’s imperfection. When I find imperfections and issues in art beloved by millions, it takes the pressure off of me to achieve perfection in my own art.
For the Apathy to keep hold, you must hold the purity and perfection of your idea above all else. The beauty of the Idea is a siren’s song, lulling you to inaction, to constant pondering. I know, because I’ve lived there. It’s a nice place, if you’re content to only live there.
Whatever your method is, Artist, you must find a way to not only accept imperfection, but embrace the tension between perfect ideal and imperfect execution. This will not only help you keep your sanity, but will make your art all the more beautiful.
After all, doesn’t all Art reflect the tension between perfect and imperfect?
Apathy Rejects the Input of Others
The purity of the Idea must be protected at all costs, says the Apathy. When critique or criticism rolls in from anyone, the instinct is to explain or dismiss. They can’t see the Idea in its full glory, after all — what do they know?
But Art that exists only for the Artist is not Art, it’s a fantasy.
The irony is, the only way for you to hone your craft and get it nearer to the perfection of your Idea is to accept the input of other minds. Not every mind, no. But trusted minds, wise minds, experienced minds — you should seek their input into your Art and process. If nothing else, the exercise will draw you outside your own ego, and give you fresh eyes for your project.
But Most of All, the Apathy Hates Action
For all these reasons and more, the Apathy hates action. Action threatens perfection. Action confines possibility — after all, the body does limit the soul.
Action exists outside of Inspiration, which is the most terrifying thought of all, because it leaves us without excuse. When we wait at the whim of the Muse, we are not responsible. We can dream languid dreams, looking forward to the next visit of that magical force that enables us to, ever so briefly, realize the Art that lives inside of us.
When we take action, we make a bold statement: that Art is in our power to create, and by putting muscle and bone to dreams and ideas, we can make something magical.