It is a cliche that the creation of great art requires its creator(s) to have suffered beforehand. This is almost certainly false. On the other hand, the observation that a dearth of suffering impedes the creation of great art is not obviously wrong.
I refer, of course, to Oh My!, the new album by Mae Moore and Lester Quitzau.
Look at these guys.
They look as happy as these guys.
And their album (Mae and Lester’s album, that is) is very weak. This is not a coincidence. The album is weak because Mae and Lester are so happy. They are so blissfully contented that that’s all they want to write about. Suffering is not interesting, they want to tell us. Follow your bliss. “I don’t miss my misery,” says the last song on their album. But songs about bliss are not interesting. Everyone knows this. But not everyone knows the reason.
Songs about contentedness are not interesting, at least as works of art, because we look to art for solutions to our problems. Not problems like how to fix a leaky radiator, but problems like how to think about the meaning of life, if there is one.
I’m not saying you can’t enjoy such a song, only that you can’t take it seriously as a work of art. Everyone feels this, but they explain it wrongly. It’s not that you have to suffer to make art worth anyone else’s attention. It’s that you have to have a question. You may be in Nirvana, but you have to have a question about it or you won’t be able to write a decent song or paint a decent picture or make a decent movie about it.
Now, no one has to make art. If you can be perfectly happy without doing so, heck. Be my guest. I am only talking about the conditions required for the production of interesting art by those who happen to be interested in making it.
To make interesting art you have to have some serious, deep, difficult, interesting questions. They don’t have to cause you pain. They do have to cause you to think seriously, about yourself and about the world in which you are situated.
Why do Mae and I get to be in Nirvana when so few others do? What did we do, or not do, to get here? Are we just “lucky”? — and what does that word mean? Will this Nirvana thing last? — if not, why not, and what will I do, poor me, when it ends? Am I really satisfied in this blissful realm? If so, why am I sometimes tempted to abandon or jeopardize it? Can any feeling be very good for very long? Would I even want that?
Does Mae feel toward me more or less the way I do toward her, or is it a very different set of feelings? Were we able to perceive the difference, would our relationship change? Does this question even make any sense?
Do we plan to be together “forever”? Can we really promise each other such a thing, if we cannot know what the future holds? Am I certain that I would want that? — or even that I want it now?
Why do we (people in general, and we two in particular) want to be together? Am I totally responsible for my wanting, or is it at least partly beyond my control?
Are there things I want from Mae, that I will never get? Do I know what they are? Is it OK that I won’t get them? — that I’ve implicitly agreed to relinquish them for the duration of this relationship? What will happen if I decide it’s not OK?
Does Mae worry about these things? — which ones? Does she worry about other things? — what are they? Can I help her with these things, or does she have to deal with them alone?
What is it like to be Mae Moore? — to love and to live with and to sleep with me, Lester Quitzau? Isn’t this the ultimate mystery of intimacy — the riddle of the self and the other — the idea that, in some sense, I “could have been” the other, but I turned out to be me instead? The question makes no sense, but isn’t there sort of a grain of truth in it? Will I ever get a glimpse of what it’s like to be Mae? Do I want Mae to have that kind of insight about me? Are we so far apart that nothing very close to this can really happen?
What will happen as we get old and our bodies fall apart? Can I bear that? Why am I not making more of an effort to prevent it, by exercising and eating properly and so on? What is the difference between wanting something and trying to accomplish it? If I say I want it, but then I don’t work for it, does that mean I don’t “really” want it? — if so, then why do I say (and think!) I want it?
Write about some of those questions, Mae and Lester. You guys are way talented. You have a spell-binding album in you, if you will put some hard questions to yourself. It won’t even hurt. And the Upanishads notwithstanding, no Nirvana lasts forever.