artist because of a dispositional failure to fit any other social position — sadness, suffering and the creative act

MicroResponsive Reading – Unfettered word count, Pierre Bourdieu’s Fields of Cultural Production and suffering the self reflection that I am artist because of a dispositional failure to fit any other social position. Damn.

Easing in, I slog through Pierre Bourdieu’s Fields a second time. Textual strands evasively tug and bind my moments. I poise in place, hands trailing behind flirtingly fingering each eddy of his thoughts. They become muddied from the eroding runoff from alternate fields I plow—fields cultivated with accumulating research on artists, creativity, psychophysiology and my own lived experiences.

Pierre Bourdieu

Attempting to filter the flow and follow a single textual strand upstream into the real world, I am temporally torn between a responsive biographical dispositional debriefing of artist versus unpacking the alluring line in which Bourdieu suggests that the “artist invents himher-self in suffering” (Bourdieu, 1993 p 169). This line is provocative for the ways it relates to the alternate fields I study. I suffer deliberating between the two strands for which ONE to follow.

Louise Bourgeouis

The artist sacrifices life to art not because he wants to but because he cannot do anything else – Artist, Louise Bourgeouis (Bourgeois, Bernadac, and Obrist, p. 173).

Heck, why not do both in this temporary field of unfettered word counts?!

PART 1 :: Artist by Dispositional Default, a Social Position


In December I pecked out a series of blog posts in which I deliberated on the question as to whether I arrived at being artist simply as a failure to fully fit any other viable social category of being in a way that also felt authentic. It was as though I had already read Bourdieu’s claim correlating sets of dispositional tendencies as prerequisites for particular social positions—that the artist’s habitus disposition “predisposes” the artist to “realize the potentialities inscribed” in the particular social position of artist (Bourdieu, 1993, p 170).

As artist I am not alone in narcissistically deliberating on what Bourdieu argues.

We do not choose our roles—we obey the calling and accept its terms—though it does not mean that we do not resent them, of course…We become sculptors, let us say, because of our inability to grow up…Everyday you have to abandon your past or accept it and then if you cannot accept it you become a sculptor…I became an artist—to find a mode of survival…

The decision was made for me by the situation…I had to create ways of making myself likable. It was the only way of escaping the depression which came from feeling superfluous—from feeling abandoned. Having been privileged with a native energy I switched from a passive role to an active one. – Artist, Louise Bourgeouis (Bourgeois, Bernadac, and Obrist, p. 99, 134, 167).

Working as an artist is one of the most difficult things I do, and at the same time it’s the only thing I can possibly do. – Artist, Carrie Mae Weems (http://hyperallergic.com)


Skimming my December 2015 blog posts, it is clear, quite clear, even in vocabulary that my thoughts parallel both Bourdieu and Bourgeois’ claims.

art process selfie #45,302,482

Kathy Kelley

I can never keep my fingernails clean. As artist this unfeminine trait of dirty nails does not counter my legibility as feminine simply because I also categorically am framed as artist. It is allowable for those who ply paint and other materials into objects signed and called art to have dirty nails. So I jokingly claim that I had to be an artist to justify the nail problem and still see myself as recognizably female.[1]

* * *

Am I artist because I cannot fully navigate the path of scholar, cube worker, day laborer, housewife or mother? Perhaps the lack of a capacity to fulfill these roles has influence, but I did not arrive at artist reductively because it was all that was left available to me. Yet neither did I grow up thinking, “Oh, I will be or am an artist”…

When I stumbled on doing and being artist after the age of forty, working out my knownings and unknowings with my hands in real space, there was an overwhelming sensation of coming home to myself. There was a vividness of feeling as though I was finally walking in my own skin. I recall lightly berating myself, “How could you have not known? I am sculptress. I am artist. For I am tactile learner, oriented toward and overly sensitive to the observable, strong in perceiving literal and abstract patterns of socio-spatial relationships!” Of course I came home to myself only when I had the resilience of ego to do so. More interesting to me is that I only noticed this homecoming in the act of unrestrained writing.[2]


Both Bourgeouis and I tick of a list of characteristics found in ourselves that seems to correlate with our notion of artist and exclude us from other possibilities. In my review of artists there are commonalities in the perceptions held of our own social histories, relationships to affluence and education, as well as with dispositional habitus and physiological processing that lead us to conclude we are artist. This uncannily parallels the common properties of writers Bourdeaux puts forward in his essay on “Field of Power, Literary Field and Habitus” (1993). His argument—that I might be artist because it is the only social position in which my dispositional properties are categorically read as legible, functional and thus acceptable—feels spot on. I simultaneously hate this notion for it implicates me as just another cultural cog.

I weary from this piranha like self-cannibalization of autoethnographic accounting despite implicating Louise Bourgeouis in a like fate, so I now opt for “suffering.


I find the past terribly painful though I am tied to it. It’s unresolved…You take the event in hand and actively manipulate it in order to survive…

‘When and why did you decide to Become an Artist?’ The decision was made for me by the situation…I had to create ways of making myself likable. It was the only way of escaping the depression which came from feeling superfluous—from feeling abandoned. Having been privileged with a native energy I switched from a passive role to an active one.

To be an artist involves some suffering. That is why artist’s repeat themselves—because they have no access to a cure. – Artist, Louise Bourgeouis (Bourgeois, Bernadac, and Obrist, p. 257, 173, 167, 190).


“The artist invents himher-self in suffering” (Bourdieu, 1993 p 169). In this simple sentence Bourdieu first proposes artist identity as constitutive—“invents self.” Much like other readings I have ingested this suggests that “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman artist” (Beauvoir, 1953) and “gender artist is real only to the extent that it is performed” (Butler, 1988, p. 527). Secondarily, Bourdieu argues that a property of artist constitution is suffering.


Sadness, mood disorders, and social rejection are not equivocal to suffering nor is suffering necessarily resultant of these. Yet it is conventional to causally link these situational and affective states with suffering. Suffering definitionally includes situations that distress the individual. Visual artists’ writings often read as deliberations on pivotal distressing moments that have shaped their practice of art and being. And though the various manifestations of suffering are apparent in their journalistic texts, I have opted to focus here on a particular manifestation of suffering, sadness. Sadness textually surfaces in artists’ writings and is likewise linked to creativity by social scientists with the creative act, meaning it is implicated as a property of the category of creative, of artist.

Sally Mann

Certain aspects of my character that have always been mysterious to me—the occasional but intense bouts of sadness, my romanticism and tetchy sensitivity, the plodding work ethic, and my tendency toward Talmudic hairsplitting, fractiousness, and unrest. – Photographer, Sally Mann (Mann, 2015, p. 203).

* * *

Anne Truitt

As now, I was overstrained by too much responsibility, too much earnestness, and too much sadness

There is a grievous feeling around these days and we pick it up through our psychological pores, like pickles in brine. I understand the blessing of laughter better than I used to, having— I hope—outlasted some of the portentous solemnity to which, when I am tired or frightened or insecure, I am sadly prone. – Sculptress/Painter, Anne Truitt (Truitt, 1982, Kindle Ed 181-182, 1522-1524).

Relative to the general population “depression and affective disorders” are recognized as 8 to 10 times more prevalent amongst writers and artists (Akinola & Mendes, 2008). Equally social rejection is linked with artistic production (Akinola & Mendes, 2008). Mood disorders, social rejection and other adverse states appear as triggers for temporal states of sadness.

Like affective disorders, sadness is often understood by its psychological and physiological consequences. But as with social rejection, the precipitation of sadness is ground in the sediment of “cultural meanings organized around a relationship to a social object, usually another person” (Peterson, 2006).

When I give up this sadness, they will be relieved. But I cannot rush. I have to live through and out of this place in which the mother keeps wandering in the empty, twilit nursery.

The sadness of parting with my children has nothing to do with the want of “wanting to be needed.” I do feel needed, and it is precisely because I do that I am so surprised by the depth of my feelings of separation. – Sculptress/Painter, Anne Truitt (Truitt, 1982, Kindle Ed p. 2384-2385, 2465-2466).

Sadness has been coupled with the capacity to focus attentional resources and to make unconventional observations and conclusions (Clore & Huntsinger, 2007). It is reported that individuals in happy as well as angry states tend to align more readily with established responses—stereotypes and norms. Whereas as a sad state “acts as a stop sign for dominant responses” (Clore & Huntsinger, 2007, p 6).

I see both the beauty and the dark side of things; the loveliness of cornfields and full sails, but the ruin as well…“beauty tinged with sadness,” for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay. For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing. — Artist, Sally Mann (Mann, 2015 p. 414-415).

A series of psychological studies spearheaded by Matthijs Baas on mood regulation and creativity have associated negative affect, such as sadness, with the activating drive to alleviate the cause of the negative affect.

I’m a prisoner of my memories. I have been a prisoner of my memories and my art is to get rid of them…In order to liberate myself from the past, I have to reconstruct it, ponder about it, make a statue out of it and get rid of it though making sculpture…

I find the past terribly painful though I am tied to it. It’s unresolved…You take the event in hand and actively manipulate it in order to survive. You turn the passive into the active. – Artist, Louise Bourgeouis (Bourgeois, Bernadac, and Obrist, p. 257, 173).

This activation facilitates original and insightful resolutions (Baas, Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008; Baas, Dreu, & Nijstad, 2011; Baas, Nijstad, Boot, & Dreu, 2016)—with the negative affect functioning like a “mental itch,” “creative tension”, “creative stress”, and “felt tension” (Jarman, 2016) that sets the artist into motion.

Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse

Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better – Letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (Brooks, 2015).

* * *

Obviously, the art was in the eliminating of a fantastically painful subject…

It’s a matter of associations…Fulfillment comes from the solution of a problem… Once a sculpture is done, it has served its purpose and has eliminated the anxieties that I had…

The thing that had to be said was difficult and so painful that you have to hack it out of yourself and so you hack it out of the material…

Anytime you are presented with a problem, you dig. You dig in your mind…for the truth…all day long.

You have to conceptualize what you want to do; you have to have an idea. The idea, as I said before, comes from a failure somewhere, a failure of power somewhere – Artist, Louise Bourgeouis (Bourgeois, Bernadac, and Obrist, p. 111, 137, 142, 187, 158).


Research psychologists have shown actuating relationships between these aversive states and situations in activating artists’ problem solving capacities while simultaneously reducing their compliance to conventional solutions. These same research communities commonly define the creative act as an alternate solution to convention and which results in shifts to particular paradigms. And a few snippets of artist generated texts likewise uncover the links between their lived experiences, sadness, suffering, and the creative act. Therefore there is coherent scientific and evidentiary support for Bourdieu’s argument to the social properties of a position such as artist correlating with the dispositional properties of the individual.

All statistical inquiries show that the social properties of agents (artists), thus their dispositions, correspond to the social properties of the position they occupy…The artist invents him(her)self in suffering (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 165, 169).

And just as “one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman,” so it is with artist (Beauvoir, 1953).

THE END [for the moment]

Clearly again I suffered in isolating a single conceptual eddy to fondle and follow to a clear logical finish. Good luck wading or drowning in my uncapped word count for I have pooled and muddied it with the eroding fields of study trickling chaotically through my noggin. I would also like to blame today’s responsive textabation on a recent TTU literary event in which my mind drifted from the offered poetic text into unfettered revisions and mergings of all my responsive “shitty first drafts” to Bourdieu (Lamott, 2013).


Akinola, M., & Mendes, W. B. (2008). The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(12), 1677-1686.

Andrews, P. W., & Thomson, J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review, 116(3), 620-654.

Baas, M., Dreu, C. K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 779-806.

Baas, M., Dreu, C. K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2011). When prevention promotes creativity: The role of mood, regulatory focus, and regulatory closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 794-809. doi:10.1037/a0022981

Baas, M., Nijstad, B. A., Boot, N. C., & Dreu, C. K. (2016). Mad Genius Revisited: Vulnerability to Psychopathology, Biobehavioral Approach-Avoidance, and Creativity. Psychological Bulletin.

Beauvoir, S. D. (1953). The second sex. New York: Knopf.Blumstein, D. T. (2010). Towards an integrative understanding of social behavior: New models and new opportunities. Front. Behav. Neurosci. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Bourgeois, L., Bernadac, M., & Obrist, H. U. (1998). Destruction of the father reconstruction of the father: Writings and interviews, 1923-1997. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press in association with Violette Editions, London.

Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519.

Byron, K., Khazanchi, S., & Nazarian, D. (2010). The relationship between stressors and creativity: A meta-analysis examining competing theoretical models. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 201-212.

Clore, G. L., & Huntsinger, J. R. (2007). How emotions inform judgment and regulate thought. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(9), 393-399.

Dahmen-Wassenberg, P., Kämmerle, M., Unterrainer, H., & Fink, A. (2016). The Relation Between Different Facets of Creativity and the Dark Side of Personality. Creativity Research Journal, 28(1), 60-66.

Damian, R. I., & Simonton, D. K. (2015). Psychopathology, adversity, and creativity: Diversifying experiences in the development of eminent African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(4), 623-636.

Glazer, E. (2009). Rephrasing the madness and creativity debate: What is the nature of the creativity construct? Personality and Individual Differences, 46(8), 755-764.

Jarman, M. S. (2016). Scratching mental itches with extreme insights: Empirical evidence for a new theory. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 10(1), 21-31.

Kyaga, S., Landén, M., Boman, M., Hultman, C. M., Långström, N., & Lichtenstein, P. (2013). Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(1), 83-90.

Lamott, A. (2013). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life (Audible 1 ed., Vol. Anchor). Recorded Books.

Lench, H. C., Flores, S. A., & Bench, S. W. (2011). Discrete emotions predict changes in cognition, judgment, experience, behavior, and physiology: A meta-analysis of experimental emotion elicitations. Psychological Bulletin, 137(5), 834-855.

Ludwig, Arnold M. “Method and Madness in the Arts and Sciences.” Creativity Research Journal 11, no. 2 (1998): 93-101. doi:10.1207/s15326934crj1102_1.

Mann, S. (2016). Hold Still A Memoir With Photographs. Back Bay Books.

Peterson C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.


[1] Kelley, kathykelley.us, “Art as an accounting of oneself” Dec 11, 2015.

[2] “WHAT? Am I artist as a way to account for the ways I am unable to negotiate particular conventions in a fashion I can live with?” Dec 13, 2015


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