Boredom is a serious psychological and existential problem for many people and an especially serious problem for creatives in recovery. If you’re creative, you’re likely to find boredom unbearable. That dreadful feeling is a trigger for using drugs or alcohol or engaging in compulsive behaviors like gambling or promiscuous sexual activity.
Why is boredom such a problem for creatives? For all of the following reasons and more:
1. Creatives are relatively less interested in what is known and relatively more interested in what is still unknown. However, when what is known doesn’t interest you that means that a lot of life is bound to bore you. As the poet Wallace Stevens put it, “It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.”
2. Boredom sets in right after the creative act is finished. The act of creating is stimulating and exciting and in the aftermath of that stimulation and excitement boredom sets in. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation.” Many creative and performing artists are visited by boredom the instant they stop writing, painting, or performing.
3. Since boredom is a meaning crisis having to do with experiencing the void, no amount of excitement really keeps boredom at bay. Even if you drive at a hundred miles an hour, as soon as you stop driving you are likely to feel bored again. Even if you engage in the wildest sex, the moment you’re finished you’re likely to feel bored again. As the novelist Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) put it, “This is the curse of our age, that even the strangest aberrations are no cure for boredom.”
4. Creating comes with a lot of down time. Most performers get to perform only occasionally. A writer or a painter who works for two or three hours may not be ready to work again until the next day. As the actor Jeremy Renner put it, “There’s too much down time making movies. That leads to boredom. And that leads to trouble.” And as the actress Romola Garai explained, “If I have to spend prolonged periods of time in a trailer, I go mad. Stuck in a metal box doing nothing, I lie there paralyzed with boredom.”
5. Artists engage in a lot necessary repetition and that repetition can breed boredom. Singers practice their scales, painters repeat the imagery that buyers want, genre writers crank out another mystery or romance. As the flautist James Galway put it, “Running through things because you are familiar with them breeds routine and this is the seed of boredom.”
6. Creatives get stuck having to do boring work for pay. The work they really want to do may not be wanted and may not pay the bills, so they are forced to take unexciting “commercial” work. As the actor William Forsythe put it, “I did nine episodes of ‘John Doe.’ I died of boredom.” Fine artists go into advertising or the graphic arts, novelists become grant writers or copywriters, actors line up for commercials or industrials—and find themselves deeply bored.
7. The relative ease of our modern times produces its own share of boredom. As the philosopher and cultural observer Lewis Mumford put it, “By his very success in inventing labor-saving devices modern man has manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed.”
8. It is quite hard to produce great work and if a creative or performing artist is engaged in only mediocre work or pursuing an inferior idea, the mediocrity of that work is likely to bore him or her. As the novelist William Gaddis put it, “How some of the writers I come across get through their books without dying of boredom is beyond me.” The author Earl Nightingale echoed that sentiment: “You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea.”
9. For many contemporary people, and for creatives especially, boredom is often a constant background coloration that nothing really can relieve. As Paul Cezanne put it, “I thought that by leaving Aix I should leave behind the boredom that pursues me. Actually I have done nothing but change my abode and the boredom has followed me.” The poet Dylan Thomas put it succinctly: “Somebody’s boring me … I think it’s me.”
Next week – what to do!
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