Why We Need To Suffer
Correction; chastisement; punishment inflicted by way of correction and training; hence, edification or correction by means of misfortune and suffering.
When we’re talking discipline, the above definition is an unpopular one. No one wants to suffer. But have you ever heard the phrase,
We suffer for our art?
It’s a pretty popular concept among creatives that in order to produce anything of worth, you must first suffer for it. Let’s take that apart for a second.
In the Century Dictionary (my preferred dictionary as it’s the most comprehensive one of the English language) , suffer means:
To endure; support bravely or unflinchingly; sustain; bear up under.
To be affected by; undergo; be acted on or influenced by; sustain; pass through.
To feel or bear (what is painful, disagreeable, or distressing); submit to with distress or grief; undergo: as to suffer acute bodily pain; to suffer grief of mind.
Today when we hear the word suffer, we pretty much rush to the third definition. However, the primary definition does not deal with grief or pain. It’s all about endurance.
Another word for endurance is patience. You’ve all heard it: let patience have its perfect work. Let’s switch it up: let suffering have its perfect work.
A key component in suffer is sustain. Like suffer, sustain also means to endure and bear up under. But, walking back through sustain’s etymological heritage, I learned something very cool. The Proto-Indo-European root for sustain is ten which means to stretch.
Suffering, sustaining, enduring stretches you.
Metaphorically speaking, an artist is pregnant with her art. It grows within her, seemingly a part of who she are, yet something separate from her. Something which must be birthed and allowed to stand on its own outside of the artist.
Ask any mother, giving birth is a painful process. There is no way around it. There is an almost miraculous stretching that occurs in order to birth a child. The first stretching starts from within, when the child grows steadily in the womb. Then there’s the stretching without, when the birth canal makes way for this life to enter the world. And, while the process isn’t continually painful, any woman who has been pregnant and delivered a baby will attest to the fact that there are many times through pregnancy and during birth when she is completely uncomfortable, stretched to the full limit of her endurance.
All great art is birthed first within the spirit of a person. It is nurtured in their heart. It grows fully within them before it makes its way out into the world. And when an artist is in the throes of creating, the process is one of endurance.
Great art comes at a cost.
The Impressionist Claude Monet is a prime example of this. He stepped onto the art scene when the context of what it meant to be an artist was recording visual perfection rather than the realities of what was really there. The Academie des Beaux-Arts had a vice-grip on the art world. Their annual art exhibit- the Salon de Paris- was famous the world over. Artists submitted their work to a jury who would then select which pieces to exhibit in the Salon. The jury’s views were so staid and implacable that in 1857 they rejected more than half of their submissions prompting then emperor Napoleon III to call for another exhibit- Salon des Refuses- where the rejected submissions could be put on display.
When Monet submitted his paintings to the Salon for review, they were rejected. Bolstered by the solidarity of his band of similarly minded brothers, he decided to do something brave. Something fearless. He broke from the Salon. Rather than subject themselves to schools of thought that they believed in direct opposition to the vision they held in their hearts, the Impressionists organized their own exhibit. Of course, it was met with resistance from the big wigs of the Academie.
Monet went through some very dark times. Yet, through it all, he painted. He couldn’t not paint. During the years of lack and poverty, Monet painted. When there was seemingly no future for Impressionism, Monet painted. When he didn’t sell a single canvas, he painted. Monet suffered for his art.
And something happened while Monet suffered. He was on the cusp as visionaries often are, but the tides were turning. The art community was increasingly dissatisfied with the rigidity of the Academie. They were ready for a change. And because Monet continued to paint- even when it seemed all hope was gone- he was ready to step in to his rightful place when the Academie was forced to its knees.
It’s easy to look back now, having seen the impact Monet has indelibly made on the art world, and forget the suffering the man endured in order to produce his art. Decades of suffering, to say nothing of the ridicule and isolation he must have felt when people could not understand his vision. I’m certain he was called reckless more than once. But he was not reckless. He was fearless.
Fearlessness is not recklessness ever though it may look like that to some people. When Monet broke from the establishment, it was not reckless; he was breaking with them because he had to. His passion was so alive within him that he could ONLY step out into it; his VISION was GREATER than the limitations and obstacles that he faced. And while he did suffer for his art, the world is richer because he stirred up the gift within himself. He stirred it up and then he walked it out, and in doing so, h realized his purpose as a great artist and birthed a revolution that forever shifted the course of the art world.
Anything worth doing comes at a cost. The cost is the suffering. That is why we need to become fearless. Part of suffering is bravely bearing up under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And, do you know what happens when we bear up under them? By opposing those slings and arrows, we end that outrageous fortune.
A woman bears up under a torrent of physical, mental, and emotional strain while carrying and birthing a child. Yet, any mother will tell you that the costs are nothing when that baby is placed in her arms.
Stir up that gift within you. Nurture it. Cherish it. Let it grow strong. Be diligent in caring for it. For when the time is right, you will give the world something priceless, the gift only you can give.