Many artists are addicts, and vice versa. Many are artists in one breath and addicts in another.
What’s the difference?
The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.
Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways.
(When I say “addiction,” by the way, I’m not referring only to the serious, clinical maladies of alcoholism, drug dependence, domestic abuse and so forth. Web-surfing counts too. So do compulsive texting, sexting, twittering and Facebooking.)
When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling - meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.
Addiction becomes a surrogate for our calling. We enact the addiction instead of the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts. It demands entering the pain-zone of effort, risk, and exposure.
So we take the amateur route instead. Instead of composing our symphony, we create a “shadow symphony,” of which we ourselves are the orchestra, the composer, and the audience. Our life becomes a shadow drama, a shadow start-up company, a shadow philanthropic venture.
My life used to be a shadow novel. It had plot, characters, sex scenes, action scenes. It had mood, atmosphere, texture. It was scary, it was weird, it was exciting. I had friends who were living out shadow movies, or creating shadow art, or initiating shadow industries. These were our addictions, and we worked them for all they were worth. There was only one problem: none of us was writing a real novel, or painting a real painting, or starting a real business. We were amateurs living in the past or dreaming of the future, while failing utterly to do the work necessary to progress in the present.
When you turn pro, your life gets very simple.
The Zen monk, the artist, the entrepreneur often lead lives so plain they’re practically invisible. Miyamoto Musashi’s dojo was smaller than my living room. Things became superfluous for him. In the end he didn’t even need a sword.
The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a “life,” a “character,” a “personality.”
The artist and the professional, on the other hand, have turned a corner in their minds. They have grown so bored with themselves and so sick of their petty bullshit that they can manipulate those elements the way a HazMat technician handles weapons-grade plutonium.
They manipulate them for the good of others. What were once their shadow symphonies become real symphonies. The color and drama that were once outside now move inside.
Turning pro is an act of self-abnegation. Not Self with a capital-S, but little-s self. Ego. Distraction. Displacement. Addiction.
When we turn pro, the energy that once went into the Shadow Novel goes into the real novel. What we once thought was real - “the world,” including its epicenter, ourselves - turns out to be only a shadow. And what had seemed to be only a dream, now, the reality of our lives.