Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Artistic Sacrifice

"If a man fears death, / he shall be saved by his poems."

from Mark Strand's "The New Poetry Handbook"

The two previous posts have elicited strong responses from several people. It appears many of us identify with the feeling that writing has become a necessary part of their lives, as necessary as eating and sleeping. Others resonate with the idea that to destroy one's art is to destroy a bit of one's self, and a few of us understand this feeling from direct experience. Some of us have destroyed our poems, journals, drawings, or other art we have created out of a sense of self-loathing, or misdirected rage, or embarassment, or perhaps because, like Lucille Clifton's mother, we were forced to do so.

I am very curious to know of other experiences of people who have, at some point in their lives, destroyed their art. What circumstances caused you to do it? What feelings did you have as you did it? How did you feel afterwards? What does that sacrifice mean to you now? Do you still feel the urge to do it?

I will share an art-destruction story of my own. When I was eleven, our local small town newspaper was having a contest for kids. Every day they printed a picture of a clown, and I would cut it out and color it in. You could do as many as you wanted, then send them all in. The best colored-in clown won a prize.

Creating art in my family was dangerous. Any creative risk was met with suspicion and sarcasm from my parents, so I hid these pictures in my room. (I didn't find out until I was in my twenties that my sister had been writing poems since her childhood, and keeping them in a large binder. She has hundreds of them, all kept secret for years.) I can't remember what prompted my mother's rage on that day--she was prone to fits of hostility and depression--but I remember her throwing things, yelling, and sending me to my room.

What I remember best about the entire incident is what I felt in that room. Most likely it was a warped anger against my mother, but I felt it as an intense self-loathing, a sense that I was incurably "bad," because my mother disliked me so much. I saw those clown pictures sitting on the floor of my room in a small stack, and I hated them. I hated that I had colored them, had bothered to hope that I might do something special. I hated that I had allowed myself to become vulnerable enough to believe that art was worthwhile. I hated that they existed.

I grabbed at the stack and started ripping paper as fast as I could, tearing apart the clown faces with sobbing fury. Once I had reduced the stack to a pile of ripped, colored newsprint, I felt a strange catharsis, as if I could breathe again. I stuffed the pieces in my trashcan and lay on my bed, unmoving, for a long time.

This sacrifice of my art was a sacrifice of a piece of my eleven-year-old heart. But it also helped me survive in an painful family situation. I could have never shown that kind of anger to my parents without severe consequences, and the destruction of the clown helped me proccess it, albeit it in a misdirected way. Part of me mourns the clowns; part of me is glad I had the clowns to rip up so I didn't do it to my body. It's difficult to judge.


Billy said...

i can recall a good friend of mine destroying some of his work. we would write poetry and then discuss them whenever we met. these were good years. then he met someone and everything changed. guess he started questioning himself and his art.

Jordan said...

How I hope the opening quote is true, but how I fear that is not.

Kris said...

Over the years (I'm 43) I had been destroying almost everything I had ever written. Even high school newspaper articles. All poetry. All journals. Everything. I would keep it a few days and then when I reread it, I would be filled with self-loathing and embarrassment. It was clear evidence that pointed a spotlight directly at my horrible self. I couldn't face it. About three years ago I quit doing this. I have spiral notebooks and random pieces of paper all over the house with writing, sketching, and ramblings. Now when I reread them r I rejoice at the evidence of my worth and my growth on my journey to mental and spiritual growth. The challenge for me at this point is to try to get it all together, in chronological order. I for sure need to pull some pages out of my son's math notebook! LOL

PoeticMermaid said...

Where do I begin? I remember I had gone over to a friend's place to sing karaoke in middle school. We recorded a song of me singing. I brought it home, and my Mom thought it was beautiful. My Dad said, "You can't make a living singing." There was a musical in high school I tried out for, but I was so nervous and insecure, that I sounded horrible. The following was written after my need to pick up the pieces again after years of self-deprivation.

“Heart Above”

the musical's title
"Bits and Pieces"
how did they know
my Name?

with sharp stares
they cut my vocal chords
slice me into
bits and pieces
before I even begin

I am breathless
musical homicide

or is it suicide?

I think of my friend
who sung for tryouts yesterday
the light in her eyes
the clear voice
whole, together, present

I have
to pieces
of doubt and envy
my head above
my vocal chords above
my heart

I leave
the Country of Artists
where I do not

for 15 years
I wander
forgetting my instrument
abandoning my voice
because of anatomy

my epiphany is simple
is this
my heart above
my vocal chords above
my head

I return
my passport for reentry
my will
to glue the pieces back together
with honeyed eyes
and sticky breath
my song, my life
my olympic 10

inbal said...

funny that you write about destruction. Im from israel so i hope my english will be right.
im an art therapist and im writing about art destruction.this is how i got to your blog.
i would love to hear more about it.
if you know about artists who destroy their art please write me.
so good to see that you're using art thow it was taboo in your family

inbal said...

how do i give you my e-mail address without writing it here?

Amy said...


Can you post a link to your web page?

Pete said...


i was looking randomly through blogs and found yours and i read this post. I respect the fact you kept being creative when your parents made it so hard. Luckily my parents respect the fact (though they may not like the idea) that i'm going to go to school for creative photography. I also write poems and maybe it's cause i'm still fairly young (17) but i haven't destoryed any of my poetry, i couldn't do that cause later on in my life i want to know who i was when i look back on my teenage years. I may not like what i see but it who i am. If i destoryed it, then i would be destorying myself. Why would i destroy it, i can't change who i was.

Well that's all, it might not have made any sense but hey take for what you will