A few years ago I was listening to a prospective client in my studio. Song after song of personal turmoil and emotive wrestling emanated from her heart and mouth.
After awhile I stopped to ask her gently, “Do you have anything else to offer the world besides your angst?”
For hundreds of years, artists have tapped the tempest of angst to create poetry, painting, music, and literature that moves, challenges and unnerves us.
Angst in itself is merely emotion. Neither good nor bad, it carries its own information – flagging our malcontent – and driving us to seek and find.
We sense it regarding important decisions. We feel it in lost job opportunities. It visits us in broken relationships, in the disquiet of our regrets and in the disappointments of our faith.
Angst can also masquerade as authenticity – tricking us with the illusion that we are being true to ourselves.
When our angst is rooted in the guise that life is more real if troubled… we constrict the breadth of our emotional range and become trapped in the endless loop of our singular gaze.
It’s from this latter perspective I put forth my nuanced question.
I didn’t want her to be stuck in the centripetal pull of anxiety. Good robust art flourishes when it connects to that which is common to all of us.
Recently, I’ve wondered if I was too hasty in my query. Maybe angst need not be trapped in its own center, but a necessary mercy to know peace.
“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light” writer Madeleine L’Engle considered.
To know it’s darkest before the dawn.
The beautiful featured image is by Julie Jablonski and is used here with her generous permission on behalf of The Cultivating Project.