The Artist’s Advantage

“So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Second, writing is survival.  Any art, any good work, of course, is that.
Not to write, for many of us, is to die.” – Ray Bradbury

The artist’s extreme advantage in life, when compared with the non-artist, is being able to channel practically any experience or thought into art that can nourish the self and can nourish others.  Very little of an artist’s life is truly wasted.  In contrast, when the non-artist has an unpleasant experience, it is at best a lesson*; more frequently, it is something much worse: a sunk cost.

I read something very interesting recently by a young neurosurgeon who died just a few days ago of metastatic lung cancer at the age of 37:  “If you asked me when I was 17 what I would be doing with my life, I would have said, ‘Oh, I’d definitely be a writer’…For me, literature was always a powerful reflecting tool for thinking about life.”

Although Kalanithi has passed away, he left us with two powerfully reflective essays (1, 2) that are well worth reading.

I’ve written almost every day for the past eleven years.  My private journals number in the many hundreds (thousands?…I don’t know) of pages.  I’ve written thousands of (hopefully) thoughtful emails to close friends.  Last year, I finally started writing publicly by creating this blog.  Indeed, in my case, as Bradbury put it, “not to write…is to die.”

*Highly creative and determined non-artists use such lessons to devise novel solutions.

Update 1/2016: Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, was just published.


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