For me, there has always been a strong dividing line between art for therapy sake and art with a capitol A. The difference is an audience.
I gushed my cancer story into 12 journals during treatment. Scribbling in a notebook was great for getting cancer angst out of my system. But hammering out these rants was a quite different process, and created a different product, than crafting the manuscript for my book Everything Changes. One had an audience, the other did not.
Recovering from surgery, two summers ago, I was doing a choreographic residency. Blasting Led Zeppelin and stomping around the studio with my stiff, post-surgery neck helped me accept my incurable cancer. But improvising in the studio was a very different act than choreographing the ballet-opera that became the final performance of my residency.
At times being an artist with cancer is a mind f***. The cons: I want to write and choreograph about something other than my disease, but cancer so often enters my work even when I don’t want it to. I also hate when people assume that my cancer was a great artistic opportunity. I was a damn creative person before my cancer and didn’t need this diagnosis to provide content for my work. Nor do I want an audience to feel cornered into empathizing with my experience of being ill.
But there are also pros: A life in the arts prepared me for how to live very frugally – helpful when you are young with a pre-existing condition. I’m a really expressive person – quite useful when you are trying to communicate with doctors, and friends, and family about your needs. And, I have a job that is fulfilling and provides a major distraction from thinking about cancer. Well…. except for the fact that I keep writing so much about cancer.
I yearn for an art project, craft, or a hobby that is totally unrelated to health. Some days I wish I knew how to knit. But I fear that if I did I’d just end up knitting hats for chemo patients. After treatment, I took a class in techniques for transferring photographs onto fabric. I have never done anything at all with this artistic skill. What a remarkable, relaxing relief.
Do you have any crafts that distract you from your cancer? Is your profession related to cancer, illness, health care? If so, how do you find balance? Do you enjoy seeing or hearing music or artwork made by artists with illness, or is it not relevant to you?