Do You Suffer For Your Art?

Do you have to suffer for your art?

Do you suffer for your art?


It’s a cliche. The rags to riches tale. But do you have to suffer for your art?


I don’t even mean suffer on a grand scale. Poverty. Trauma. I don’t think these are necessary. 


So is it truly dedication that you need, not suffering?


I think back to some great scenes in TV shows. Listening to the commentary you find out that they filmed it at 3am. The cast and crew kept going…all into the early hours. And the resulting performance is something that you couldn’t capture otherwise, because no matter how good the actor is, if a scene requires the character to be exhausted, the performance will be better if the skilled actor is working through exhaustion themselves. Some things can’t be done by makeup or special effects.

Do you have to suffer for your art?

I don’t talk about my “art” on the internet. Clearly I’m not comfortable with it, given that I just put the word in inverted commas.


But I am an artist. A photographer. I don’t share this fact online often; even rarer do I share photos. Part of the internet is feedback. And I don’t care what you think of my photos. I like them. I’m not interested in if you like them.


I started a degree in photography a few years ago. I dropped out pretty much straight away (long story as to the details) because it was unsuitable for me.


As I’ve had more time to just be recently, I’ve had my photography urges coming back. But I’m not sure what to do with them. I’ve been told many times to become a professional photographer. The problem with that is that there are very few types of photography that I like. In a way, that’s probably good. I would be niche from the start.


I did have a photography business for a while, but it was generic and my heart was not in it. I never promoted it and I deregistered it in the end. I’m not interested in bargaining with cheap people who devalue the skill in photography. I’m not interested in people asking me questions like “Can your camera take photos of shiny objects?”. And no, I didn’t make that question up. I was genuinely asked that by a client.


My heart is in types of documentary photography. I read visual anthropology textbooks for fun. I’m always a nerd.


I like photography to be very raw. I hate editing (this goes for writing too) and post processing. I learned to take photos on SLR film cameras as a child, so I want the photo I take to be the photo in the end. Yes, there are exceptions (there always are).


But more than my preferences, I like the photos to represent reality. A contentious statement to make about photography, I know. But if a photo is grainy because it was low light & I had to use a high ISO, then to me that represents part of the time, place and space of that scene that I’m capturing. It’s not a flaw to be edited out, it’s part of the photo.


I wonder if I would prefer to live life in blocks. Day to day 9-5 is dreary, though it’s what I am familiar with. And yet, I’ve never had a secure income, so perhaps I am prepared to live a life as an artist.


You read about documentary film makers who spend 6 months of the year on the road with their subjects. Work travel of any kind is tiring, and I’ve never liked to do it. But is it living more suitably for me? Intense work, intense relaxing.


Does the suffering, the exhaustion of travel, of dedicating your life to a subject for a period of time, make for “better” work? Then you come home after the assignment to find yourself?


What is the art that makes me willing to sacrifice the parts of daily life I like? To skip a meal for the sake of art? To stay up an extra hour to capture someone as they wind down from their day and truly relax. I want to find my passion. I want to know what I would make a sacrifice for. Then I want to know if that sacrifice is worth it. I would be gutted if it wasn’t.


Do you think you have to suffer to make great art? What is your art?


15 Replies to “Do You Suffer For Your Art?”

  1. No, I don’t think you have to suffer, but you have to be committed to it, and there is a difference.

    1. I think maybe committing to an art is seen as suffering if you haven’t found your art yet.

  2. I don’t think you have to suffer. But if you really love what you do, you will find that you skip things so that you can invest in your passion… for example work through lunch or dinner because you’re in love with what you do. Don’t ignore the photography urges. Get back into it! 🙂

    1. I’m already planning a little walk with my DSLR later. Guess I should go check the battery is charged! 🙂

  3. My art is writing and blogging. Who knew – blogging as an art form! I don’t know about suffering for our art, but there are times when I have sacrificed for it.

    Visiting today from #teamIBOT xxx

    1. Blogging is completely an art form 🙂 Just happens to be newer than others!

  4. I agree with Lydia. Though with true dedication, at some point here will be a little suffering as you have to make sacrifices.

    1. I suppose the difference is the choice. It makes it dedication, not suffering.

  5. I don’t think always suffer, but most probably sacrifice. But then if you love it, it’s worth it.

    1. The end justifies the means, but in a positive way!

  6. My art is about my suffering..just to throw a spanner in the works lol. I don’t think you have to necessarily suffer, but I do think it becomes more raw, and people relate to it better when it’s something they see as painful. I watched a documentary a few months ago about a guy who did freelance photography and footage for National Geographic and it was pretty amazing the things he went through to get that perfect shot.

  7. […] I wish I knew my goal in life enough to dedicate myself to it; I have always wanted to work for […]

  8. Suffering for your art is an ages old idea, I don’t buy it. Elizabeth Gilbery addresses this notion in Big Magic, and I think she nails it. Creating anything takes time, effort and energy, sometimes study, but that’s not suffering. It’s a choice, like everything in life. Some people choose conformity and that causes suffering, some people choose not to conform and that frees them (or vice versa?). In both cases, the choice can involve highs and lows. As for “finding your art” I don’t think that has to be singular. And I don’t think you can ever be too old to find it either.
    Make art.

  9. Ha! I meant Elizabeth Gilbert obviously.

  10. Ooh I love this post! This is me but with music. I very nearly did a degree in it but decided I didn’t want to live the life of a musician. I did some paid work but didn’t like it much. Now I mostly sing to my kids but I still love to sing.

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