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Hipstercrite: The Artistic Importance of Longing

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Artistic Importance of Longing

I read an article on Huffington Post recently discussing how longing prevents us from fulfilling our dreams. The author made the obvious point that if we're stuck in the past and long for people, places, and things that are realistically unattainable, then we will never truly enjoy our lives. The essay hit home for me because I realized that I'm a person that does indeed live in the past and not "in the now". I long for my childhood, places I've lived, places I've never been to, my family, my friends, people that I've loved. I'm constantly suspended in a perpetual state of romanticism.

I also realized that all of these factors play an intricate part in my writing. They are daily inspiration and reoccurring themes and fodder.

This observation led me to wonder that without longing, would half of the world's greatest works of art, music, literature, cinema, etc. even exist?

F. Scott Fitzgerald had Ginevra King, a beautiful teenage socialite who dumped him due to his lower class status. Leaving a large psychological impression on the young man, King appeared in various forms (along with his future wife, Zelda) in Fitzgerald's writing (Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby and Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise). It is even speculated that the famous Gatsby line, "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls," was muttered by King's father. From the Princeton Weekly Bulletin, "King remained for Fitzgerald an archetype for the alluring, independent and upper class woman, ultimately unattainable by someone of a modest social background like himself."

Charlie Chaplin had Hetty Kelly, his first love that shot down his marriage proposal and died shortly thereafter much to Chaplin's heartbreak. The child-like innocence of Hetty and their relationship would remain a fixation on Chaplin for years. She arguably was the inspiration for many of Chaplin's heroines and also represented the "ideal woman" that he continually looked for throughout his life. Chaplin noted in his biography that he, ".... could not assimilate the full tragedy of it (Kelly's death)… I felt I had been robbed of an experience. Hetty was the one audience from the past I should have like to meet again.”

Daniel Johnston had his Laurie Allen, the object of affection and muse who helped inspire a great deal of his work. Daniel wrote letters and drew pictures for Laurie over the years, but the two had never met. During the SXSW screening of the acclaimed documentary about Johnston's life, titled, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston", the producers brought Laurie Allen onstage. Johnston freaked out and fled the theater, paced the sidewalk, and then disappeared before Laurie and he could ever speak.

James Ellroy had his mother, a rough-around-the-edges Angeleno who was brutally murdered. Ellroy admitted that her presence haunted him psychologically and sexually for years, becoming inspiration for his writings about 1950's Los Angeles crime (and cuasing drug habits, voyeuristic tendencies, and unhealthy relationships). Ellroy spent years on a quest to discover his mother's killer, even speculating that the Black Dahlia Killer murdered his mother (which I believe was proven false).

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had each other. Though the duo broke up almost thirty-five years ago, they both remain subject matters in their song-writing. Stevie and Lindsey have respectively written at least twenty songs about each other in both Fleetwood Mac and solo careers, such as "Dreams", "Go Your Own Way", "Silver Springs", and "Second Hand News". The lyrics off their most recent album, Say You Will, that are speculated to be about each other include, "Maybe now he could prove to her, that he could be good for her. That they should be together" (Stevie) and, "Saw your face yesterday, thinking on the days of old and the price that we paid for a love we couldn't hold" (Lindsey).

For many, wading in the muck of unrequited love is much more artistically fulfilling and inspiring than the potential reality. By not acting and continually longing, one's imagination can run wild and the fantasy much more rewarding. Is this behavior advantageous to living a healthy, normal lifestyle? Absolutely not....but who ever said that artists are normal?

What do you long for? Does your longing for certain people, places, and things inspire you and appear frequently in your work?


At 8:14 AM, Blogger Meghan said...

I love this post. I think longing is one of the most important and universal of human experiences. Especially for the artist. Longing is also a sign of advanced intelligence. Average/below-average people do not long for things because longing requires an awareness of that which is missing. It requires observation and reflection.

I long constantly. I do think it's important to be thankful for what you have, and I've been focusing on that a lot recently. I thank God all the time for the little things I enjoy about life - a beautiful morning, when my bed feels particular comfortable, my family, my friends, so on and so forth. But I still long for things - and I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive.

I do long for the past at times. I miss being a child, when life was effortless and creativity was the norm and everything was just so enjoyable. I think part of the reason longing for childhood is so crucial to art is because growing into oneself as an artist is a process of remembering how to see the world as you once did as a child. Before all the terrible shit that comes along with being an adult made you jaded or depressed or bitter or unhappy. Just getting back to that pure state of bliss.

Another aspect of longing that you didn't really mention is the longing we feel for the future. I long for the future a lot too. I imagine things that I want to happen, that I hope will happen, a time when I will have grown into the woman I want to be. The nice thing about longing for the future is that once you have a clearer picture of what you long for, you can work in the present to create it.

Part of the path of life is learning how to accept longing and even be friends with it, and not think negatively about that which you long for just because you think you can never have it again. In reality, the past is always with us. It lives forever within us.

I find that pretty comforting.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger KeLLy aNN said...

There's only one person like that in my life....was in my life.
I met Ray in 1991, a sheriff working extra duty at Picadilly. Even though I was married to the first husband, there was an instant connection. We had our affair, briefly, I late divorced, he didn't, we went our seperate ways. He worked extra duty at a restaurant next door to the apartment I lived in, although we talked, we didn't hook up.
The last time I saw him, he was serving a supena to this shrinks office I worked at. The chemistry was still there, but nothing came of it. In 96, I met my now husband, a cop who was Ray's twin.
I used to joke that I didn't know if Ray was a prelude to Chuck or if Chuck was a replacement for Ray.
The similarities were Hollywood worthy. They even looked alike.
Both the babies out of three, ...they both had sons who had severe asthma as children. Freaky, I know. At one point I kind of started looking for Ray when CHuck and I had broken up. I ended up finding him, two years late, buried about 15 graves from my dad.
Apparently, he passed away from a heart attack in 2000 right before my grandmother and dad. It's been a really long journey, and I still long for one more conversation. The connection never had a full run to completion.
He is my only regret.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger KeLLy aNN said...

@Meghan ~ I long constantly. I do think it's important to be thankful for what you have, and I've been focusing on that a lot recently. I thank God all the time for the little things I enjoy about life - a beautiful morning, when my bed feels particular comfortable, my family, my friends, so on and so <<<<<<

That has become my mantra for the last few years.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Istillheartbeargrylls said...

I think that the article you're referring to doesn't keep the artist in mind. Literally every piece of art, be it music, painting, sculpture, writing, performance are all heavily influenced by past experiences.

Personally, every piece of original writing I create draws heavily from past experience, and longing is largely a staple of that. My theory is that the notion of love only exists through reflection. It's impossible to live in the "now" because it's happening as we speak. Even these words I'm typing now have no effect because they don't exist yet.

While attaining future happiness is everyone's pursuit, it's physically not possible. That's what separates the artist from the working class. I agree with Meghan that a certain intelligence is required. I'm a lover of history. I think it's the most relevant creation of man, otherwise we'd still be raping and pillaging like cavemen.

Without longing, no one would seek to better their "now." If we had no skeletons or regrets, we'd be doomed to make the same mistakes over again. To quote Nate Fisher from Six Feet Under "What's wrong with a little pain?" Good stuff.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Geophrie said...

This really resonates with me. I've been having trouble with inspiration lately. My art has been suffering because of it and I find my work lacking. I realized it was because I had no torment or anguish or longing in my life. It's kind of hard to be a great artist when you've never starved, or gone without, or even had an abusive relationship. I guess I need to find something to long for.

Thanks for the post.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Hipstercrite said...

@Meghan- I email you!

@Kelly Ann- Your comment brought tears to my eyes (and I'm not just saying that in a kiss-assy blog comment kind of way). Gave me chills! Have you written about Ray? What a story!

@Levi- damn, Levi. you are a good writer...guess it's time for me to read your script... ;)

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Longing is my favourite past time.

I don't even long for my past, I long for the 80's, David Bowie and the New York punk scene of the early 70's.

I long to fall in love with someone like Marc Bolan, to experience the lives of my favourite movie characters.

Wow I sound sad.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Hipstercrite said...

@Geophrie- Go find yourself a muse! ;)

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Hipstercrite said...

@Emily- I wrote this whole long response and it didn't come up! All about how I was obsessed with Mulder and Scully and Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and how I longed for a love like that as a kid. Stupid Blogger.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Christina said...

I was just worrying the other day about this tendency of mine. Memory is sometimes a curse, no? This was a very interesting post, I like how you selected very different famous people to drive home universal occurrence of "longing."

At 10:24 AM, Blogger lauren said...

I've been thinking a lot about this concept. In fact, my last blog post mentions it a little.

This is a cop-out response, but it's about balance. Without hope for the future, we become lifeless, and without vision, we go nowhere. But, if we become so focused on the future that we miss the present, we never did learn how to live fully.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Randall said...

Normal's overrated. Happiness isn't necessarily the finish line.

Thank you for this. I read the same article, and just got furious. Nice to have someone sticking up for us piners.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger KeLLy aNN said...

if that gave you chills, I should give you the details.
I actually made a chart years ago with the similarities, and it blew me away.
Of course part of me felt cheated, which has nothing to do with being blessed now.
It really freaked me out.
We even ended up, although, unknowingly and like 15 years apart, naming our daughters similarly:
His was Kayla Ray
Mine was Leyla Ray

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Big Mark 243 said...

After spending a decade in my past due to an unfulfilled longing...

Everyone who you mentioned is an artist of some kind. One of my favorite sayings goes like this... art isn't in what you see but in the GAP between the piece and what you see. Or read. Or hear. The art fills the void and for truly great artists, there is a hole that no matter what can never be filled. That is what helps the create what they do and why it resonates with so many... because we can't (maybe aren't even supposed to) create from our pain, heartache and loss.

This is not to say that it cannot be channelled and birth something positive in a person. But it is something that seems to strive the artist or creative person more. On the whole, I think that longing is what drives people to make something happen. Sticking to the theme of love and relationship, I know that longing for me definitely has played a big part of how I handle myself with women.

Did I mention that the artist can channel their longing? It is only healthy if you have an outlet and you can keep the longing from fermenting and eventually becoming spoiled and fouled.

I think that Meghan has a point in saying longing is a sign of advanced intelligence. You have to know and understand what you have lost or how far you are from your desires to long for something.

There is a longing in your writing... and perhaps you will be able to grow from it... I hope so!

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Tom said...

The Poet Virgil once wrote:
Optima Dies Prima Fugit

(He was a Roman, so he could get away with writing in Latin without sounding pompous)

Roughly translated it means "The best days are the first to flee"

Willa Cather used it in her book "My Antonia" (read it if you haven't you would love it)

Anyway, to answer your question, I do think that longing is hard wired into us. Well some of us. OK, me at least.

I think my entire blog is devoted to the sense that things that went before were somehow better, but they slipped away, and remain only as memories that unfortunately fade the more we turn them over in or mind, until they become mere memories of memories.

I could go on, and on, all day, but I'll spare you. Awesome post. Keep up the great writing.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger theTsaritsa said...

If you're an artist, you're allowed to be flighty-- the Romantic poets, my favorites, all used longing as a theme in their work.

Then again, if you're a Wall street trader, longing for your past will definitely get in your way!

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Rob said...

That one really hit home.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Dugaldo said...

I long for you long time.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Austin Eavesdropper said...


I leave your blog alone for 4 days, and all of this amazing content / writing pops up in the interim. Last time I skip my daily Hipstercrite check-ins.

Gosh, I don't even know where to begin. Ok. On Longing: This is a topic I've long contemplated, too. The writer side of me craves experience, and maybe a touch of pain - but the Buddhist side wants to end suffering. Including my own. My giving up attachments, once and for all.


Favorite Weezer song: Cliche, but, The Sweater Song. I have such nostalgia. I wanted to be a skater chick so badly but was too damn goody goody to pull it off. I'll always associate Weezer with the band that help me get incrementally closer to the tough, cool skater kids. I sure as hell couldn't purchase / listen to a Korn album, but I COULD buy Weezer.

And, badass ladies! Wow. I'm so happy to know about Humans Are Funny Now. I've bookmarked her page. Thank you for sharing these girls with us. I would bet money you are inspiration for all of them, and I know for sure you are for me.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger IT said...

It hate it when I misread something.
So I saw this just fine yesterday.
Then, just now, I read the title as The Artistic Importance of Logging.
It immediately occurred to me that we could really use some good chain saw sculptures.

Seriously, longing is lot of remaining in yesterday instead of living in the moment and it truly wastes a lot of time.


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