The Demons Will Have Their Say

Today as I plotted out a design, I found myself thinking about my fellow creatives. It often happens when I’m intently focused on something. There’s a gate that opens and in walk the demons to have their say. It’s not anything like letting my guard down. It’s more like leaving the door ajar knowing they’re out there.

Today the demons told me those I allowed to get the closest to me, those who managed the difficult, mined trek to my heart all shared one thing with me and with each other. We have more than a passing acquaintance with demons. It’s a more artistic way of saying we’re more than a little bit crazy.

But as one of my more possessed fellow creatives told me, we’re friends because our demons play well together. At first I thought he meant us, the me and him, together, outside himself. But then I understood he meant our individual demons, the ones inside us. We come with our own population.

We can’t tame them, he told me, because then we couldn’t create. The demons also must remain semi-feral or they become a detriment instead of a benefit. He was absolutely right. The moments when you’re deep into your art is very much a fugue state. It’s just you and the demons having their say.

There were times in my life when I was so focused on writing or drawing that I didn’t hear anything around me. People, music, phones, the everyday activity of life. None of it was there anymore. But what was inside me wanting to come out was startling and demanding in its clarity. It shouted above everything else. It took over.

I suspect such states are why creatives are often labeled bipolar, schizophrenic, or any other convenient excuses to explain why society forces creative people to split in two in order to live and to create.

I’m not saying these labels were inaccurate for some. I knew at least two, maybe three creatives whose need to create was driven by really dark forces inside themselves. It was either let them out on the canvas or get devoured by them a piece at a time until there was nothing left to sustain that resembled a whole person.

The thing about art is that it’s about as close to truth you can get. What you see on that canvas, on that wall, in that music, in those words, that’s a truth most people never experience. They don’t know what it’s like to come out of that fugue state and see yourself nakedly exposed. It’s bound to make anyone a little bit crazy.

"The demons backed down at the honesty that came from him, because it meant they could no longer torment him with the truth." from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor's Books and Art Ursine Logic

Blood On The Canvas

The character who draws the most questions is Artemis. I get asked if I based him on someone I knew, and while writing about real people is never a good idea, this is a yes and no answer.

Artemis is the type of man I was often drawn to in my younger days. Moody, highly creative, immensely talented, and possessed of an intelligence far beyond that of the herd. Like Artemis, many were social misfits who never really fit in anywhere. Their only salvation was their art, their music, their ability to write about the traumas in their souls.

So yes, there are some points of truth in my creation of the character. Artemis is not anyone in particular. He is not one man I knew, but many. But he is also my most archetypal character. He is the moody, dark prince haunted by demons from horrific events in his past. He is the withdrawn, alienated child who found a voice through music, art, and literature. He is every man who drew me to him by living with his shadows exposed.

And that’s what I suspect drew readers to him, especially the creatives.They knew his demons personally. They played music with them. They painted them. They wrote them. And they knew deep down inside every one of them were all self-portraits. That was their blood on the canvas, their tears that fell with the notes, their agony on the page.

But for those who knew what it was like to support an art, the duality of self became second nature. There was the artist, and then there was the person who was someone else to support that art. They lived this double self and they saw this duality in Artemis.

But the creatives also understood the double bind he caught himself in with his art. He could not leave himself out of it. He could not set aside what he felt when his fingers touched those strings. On the surface he was the talented harpist who drew his listeners to him so completely, he was like a hungry spider stocking his web. But what was also revealed was the inner world that caused his blood to mingle with the music. It exposed him, as their art exposed them. They knew what it was like to be stripped bare of all protective covers.

The blood he spilled of himself and others made him the man who brought his audiences to tears with his music. Creatives understood without the demons, without the darkness of the past, without the inner trauma, anything that came from them and from Artemis would be one dimensional. So they bled as Artemis bled and by doing so they shined a light on themselves for others to see. His honesty became his only real protection against the demons, just as their art served the same purpose for them.

Artemis looked at her with something between a warning and indifference, and she sensed he no longer was Artemis the harpist, but someone different, someone more feral, more lethal. He reminded her of the panther in a painting she rescued from a burned out building. He seemed even more lean, hard and wiry, more wild than tamed. His long black hair pulled back from his face and tied in a tail gave him the look of a mythical creature.”

from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic