Struggle Is a Sure Sign You’re Creating Art

All great works of art are trophies of victorious struggle.
—Julius Meier-Graefe

The other week was hard. Late nights, tight deadlines, and little sleep. To top it off, I lost my wallet, misplaced my license, and was subjected to the horrors of Babies-R-Us for an entire hour.

Struggle Is a Sign You'r Creating Art (Two Fighters)
Photo credit: Eric Langley (Creative Commons)

As the birth of a book (and child) fast approaches, I assume this frenetic lifestyle will only get worse. It makes me wonder how much more struggling I can take.

However, something happened the other day that made me think differently.

The silver cylinder that changed my perspective

“Where’s the top to that lamp?” my wife asked one morning before work. It was a small, cylindrical screw that held the lampshade in place. Like a lot of things that week (including my mind), it was lost.

“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh. I knew we would never see it again. It was beyond redemption. She left for work, slamming the door.

Sitting in my chair, I considered going back to bed. Would this week just be over already?

As I sulked, the phone rang. It was my wife. She does this every morning, usually because she’s forgotten something or to remind me not to forget something. But this time was different.

“I love you,” Ashley said. “You’re awesome.” Then, she proceeded to thank me for all the things I’d done right this week.

I didn’t feel awesome. I felt like a failure. But she didn’t see it like that.

I hung up the phone and looked out the window. It had rained all day yesterday. The downpour had added to my feelings of frustration and flustered-ness. But now, the sun was shining.

I grabbed my Kindle and headed to Starbucks. On my way out the door, something shiny caught my eye. A small silver cylinder — once lost, but now found.

You’ve got to enter the mess

The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood.
—Steven Pressfield

We all have our struggles — our obstacles and hardships. If we’re not careful, they can hold us back from moving forward, from doing what really matters.

I’m learning an important lesson about struggle and art: Creation always comes from chaos.

Often, we want to wait for perfection before pursuing our craft. We want to clean the desk before going to work. To empty our inbox before we begin writing. But often, this is just stalling. If we’re waiting for perfect, we’re kidding ourselves.

Life is messy. And if we’re going to do meaningful work, we’re going to have to enter the mess. Babies are born amidst pain, sweat, and blood, and so are our greatest projects. There is no way around it.

Getting your hands dirty

Every painting is a war.
—Neil Welliver

The other night, I spent four hours working on citations for my book. It left me feeling angry and exhausted. But when I shared my feelings of struggle with others, I realized I was not alone.

This is the feeling we get when we dare to do dirty work. And let’s face it: All work is dirty. What we mustn’t do is avoid the mess.

Sure, our hands will stay clean, but the world will still race towards entropy. Humanity will still descend towards destruction, while you hold the key to its rescue.

All artists struggle. It’s an indication that you’re actually “in the game.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We need your voice. Start using it.

Yes, there will be pain, but there will also be glory. Every graveyard is a tale of legacy, of something important left behind. So will your stories of struggle live on in your absence. If you dare to be an artist.

See you on the battlefield.

What’s a project you’re currently struggling with? Share in the comments.