“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain … But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.”
In the world of art and expression — literature, film, music, or whatever, take your pick — how many times have we seen the notion, whether expressed explicitly or by implication, that suffering is needed to create art? That pain is a spark, a trigger, needed for “real” art?
How many times have we seen the idea that unbridled happiness, joy, contentment, that these things are anathema to real, true, moving art?
The great songs are expressions of troubled times and pain. Joyful, happy songs are mere guilty pleasures.
Films that make us smile or laugh or bask in the warm glow of contentment are banal and boring. Films about oppression, suffering, abuse, genocide, and the emotional wreckage of broken human beings are films that win awards.
Happy literature is not good literature. True literature delves into the depths of the human condition … and the real, true human condition can only be negative. Bleak. Painful.
But that’s all a load of crap, really, which le Guin expresses with a beauty I can only hope to one day near. We can squeeze just as much art — moving art, important art — out of joy as we can from suffering. Delight is no less a part of the human condition than despair, nor is it less important. The Beatles were no less real artists than their contemporary, Bob Dylan, for dealing in love rather than social ills. It’s A Wonderful Life is no less a film for celebrating the joy of being surrounded by loved ones than The Hurt Locker is for its uncompromising look at the psychology of war. And so on.
I’m not an optimist by nature. People who know me know I’ve a deeply cynical side. I tend to be a grump. Yet that doesn’t mean I embrace the idea that you have to suffer for you art. Screw that. Reject that idea. Turn it on its head and kick it to the curb.
Because if you’ve got beauty in your heart rather than ugliness, well dammit, let it out, call it art, and don’t let anyone tell you different.