When I was in Amsterdam in the sixties, touring with my ballet
company, I visited the Van Gogh Museum. I walked from room to room, the pieces were breathtaking, and I stopped at a self-portrait in which Van Gogh is missing a slice of his ear. The mysterious story goes that after a terrible row with his friend, Paul Gaughin, he sliced off a piece of his left ear, packaged it up, gave it to a prostitute and was admitted to a mental hospital in Arles. He died from a gunshot wound, possibly a suicide, about a year later.

Van Gogh was considered a madman and a failure but he never stopped painting. Before he died in 1980 at the age of 37, even when he was institutionalized, he continued to paint. One of his final masterpieces, a portrait of his doctor, Dr. Gachet, sold in auction in three minutes in 1990 for 82.5 million dollars. The tragic irony is that although Van Gogh painted thousands of oils, drawing and sketches, he died a pauper. He sold a single painting while he was alive so he never knew he was a great artist. He just needed to paint.

When I was in the museum, as I contemplated his self-portrait, I
kept thinking, What if he had gotten discouraged and stopped painting? We would be missing some of the most masterful post-impressionist works that are now admired and appreciated around the world. The teaching here is that no matter what you or anyone else thinks of your creations, your art is worth doing for its own sake. Whether it’s writing, dancing which I did for all of my teenage life,
singing, painting composing or anything else (see my photo of a time gone by), it all matters. There is no good or bad. There is just “doing.”

I’ve been writing chapters of a book lately and I have no idea how
they fit together or what the theme is. I sometimes call it my “unbook,” since I have no idea what it will become. I have no book deal, I don’t have a massive following on social media and I can’t imagine who, if anyone, is ever going to read what I’m writing. Or if I want them to. But I keep writing. I am in no way comparing myself to the masterful Vincent Van Gogh but I share his need to create for the sake of creativity. If I go too long without writing, it feels like I’m gasping for breath. Like I need oxygen. I feel undernourished and
lonely with no direction or purpose. So I keep on writing even though my words could easily languish in my hard drive, unseen and un-discussed, for a very long time. Or maybe forever. It bothers me sometimes, I wonder what the hell I’m doing and if I’m wasting my time, but I keep coming back to the truth that when I write, I feel okay. When I don’t, I don’t.

We are all qualified to do our art, whatever it is, but we are not
qualified to critique it. It doesn’t have value because someone else admires it or buys it. It isn’t a waste of time because no one compliments you or hires you. It doesn’t even matter what you think of it. Your work is a part of you that hungers for expression. It has nothing to do with anyone else and it has nothing to do with your abusive inner critic whose job it is to discourage you and tell how shitty your creation is. Your artistic expression is your lifeblood, your outlet to unburden your heart and speak your truth. My friend
Olympia Dukakis dedicated the latter part of her life to helping women end the centuries-old silence that has suffocated our self-expression and our ability to feel like we matter in the world. I honor her when I speak my mind and do the artistic things that feed and nourish my soul.

I encourage you to create what is in your heart with no regard for
the endgame. No judgments about worthiness of lack of worthiness. No rating it on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s about falling in love with the process. Your expression exists for you and you alone and if someone else jumps on your bandwagon, it feels good but it doesn’t make your work more valuable. If someone critiques your work negatively, that doesn’t make it less valuable. Think about Van Gogh
as you create beauty for its own sake. What happens with it once you’ve completed it is none of your business.