Let’s make note at the outset: Compulsion is not necessarily bad. For example, we might be compelled to seek knowledge. Of course, we might also be compelled to use harmful recreational drugs, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume the compulsion in question is at worst a benign waste of time.
It’s probably fair to say that understanding your compulsions is one way to better understand yourself. And, again, they’re only bad if they disrupt your ability to live a healthy life, or if they are damaging to others – but making that distinction is not so clear cut as one might imagine.
It’s just an interesting exercise, particularly if you frame it in the context of the artist. Van Gogh clearly didn’t have to motivate himself to paint, he was compelled to do it. You see this over and over with artists: John Lennon, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Georgia O’Keeffe, Bob Dylan, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Frida Kahlo, David Foster Wallace, John Cassavetes, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ana Lily Amirpour – this list could on and on…
But here’s the thing: These are all artists who were successful in the sense that the world recognized their work (although maybe not when the were alive). What about all the equally talented artists who died in obscurity, their art ending up in the trash? Was their compulsion to create a good thing?
I would argue yes – with a caveat. They had no choice in the matter, so it wasn’t like they had the option to live a different kind of life.
But consider this: Even if they never received acknowledgement for their art (which they may not have even wanted – see Henry Darger), try to imagine the richness of their internal lives. Then imagine working a responsible corporate job in a cubicle.
Which life is better?