The artist, the criminal and the saint share a basic alienation from society.
The saint is unhappy with the state of affairs and mortality, whatever and wherever that may be, and saints, in their moral idealism, give themselves for the society so that they might try to right what they see as wrong however small and futile in the end that might be, with or without a belief in a future life.
The criminal is unhappy with society, too, for the wrong that society might have done him or her and instead of trying to improve it treat that society like they have been treated and undermine and destroy that society by refusing to obey it’s rules. They take what they can get now and take no chances on tomorrow, like most businessmen and Republicans. Get it when you can. God helps those who help themselves.
The artist is unhappy with society, with the world, too, and his or her state of mortality because there is wrong around him or her from wrongdoing to inevitable death and there is only the sentimental promise of a future paradise if you adhere to the conventional and follow the crowd that’s marching to it knows not where and pray that you might find a better place than the one that has you trapped now.
Wish is all a wish which the artist can not stand around and hope for and so he or she creates their own society, their own world on the page or the canvas or the steel form that twists with life, that sculpture that will endure when you are gone. That page of scribbled black marks that stand for life on the white bark of a tree that stays behind thick covers when you are gone. The paint that speaks with its eyes from a fragile cloth or thin board when yours have faded into dust sprinkles on the sodden earth.
All three then share common traits. Disengagement of any kind from willful isolation of oneself like a Jesus saint in the desert to a jail sentence in a cell of concrete and steel by a thief or a killer or the urgent desire to find some way to belong and not live in loneliness like the artist, who then shapes his or her sense of urgency into another world that he or she creates. A world that can be as full of suffering as the one the artist lives in but has beauty that glows with spirit and so allows that artist to transcend their own tragic fate by creating an object that will not die and live beyond them.
Still, all their personalities may be similar before the culmination of their alienation has led them into one direction or another.
The loner label can fit all three of them when they find that they don’t belong for some reason or another to the conventional social unit they live in. They’re separated and in that separation feel the anguish of loneliness, of alienation. Loneliness can make you sensitive or make you hate. Even if the loneliness came from the immoral act of breaking the laws, in that loneliness that society has forced on the wrongdoer by jail the pain is so great the criminal feels wronged, and so entrenches the anti-social urge that made them commit a criminal act in the first place.
The saint can feel that same anger in their reaction to what has wronged them, the death of a mother, the poverty of being poor, the face of homeliness they were born with, the heavy body that doesn’t attract love, the wrong done them by those they love for whatever reasons, the suffering they see around them, but find forgiveness in their hearts in order that they might not suffer the pangs of anger and ill feelings by continuing to resent the wrong. So they give themselves and in the giving find a spiritual warmth that transcends their physical and emotional agony and gives their lives meaning above their sure fate of death.
Yet, the greatest trait that the three types share in the end is their nonconformity, their unwillingness to belong to the common mass. And by that action continue their separation that was forced upon them in the first place. This disturbs the society because they don’t fit in. They’re sore thumbs and so disrupt the common pattern of life by not trudging in place along that path that eventually leads to nowhere. They force the members of society to look at themselves and recognize that they’re not going anywhere when all the whole of society wants is a state of contentment without disturbances. And so the trio of nonconformists is not liked for throwing a wrench in the smooth flow of earning a living. All were alienated and now all don’t belong to the common mix, that economic niche that sends you out to work every day with the other citizens in order to subsist and ensure that what feeds you, that society, that civilization, persists so you can stay alive as long as possible. They don’t fit. And if they don’t achieve a success that allows them to make their own place, their own spot in the welter of the every day of the economy, then they will be destroyed — by prison and execution for a criminal, martyrdom of all kinds for the saint and insignificance and poverty for the artist, which is a form of martyrdom. How many artists have paid that price and faded off the face of the earth without being able to earn a living, recognition, acclaim or appreciation? Too many unknowns that could people a giant graveyard in the last century alone.
I say this all not because I think anything can be done about it but only to point out the similarities of these so-called different types. Which I think is interesting. The idealistic artist who wants the pure rendition of their spirit to find an everlasting object to inhabit is like the idealistic saint who seeks the same feeling, the same sense of spirit that elevates the daily chore in doing unto others what they’d like to be done to them and so invigorates their day by day lives. Even that criminal who commits that crime, in the act of committing that crime elevates their spirit above the mundane of daily life that leads you you know not where and so in the thralls of excitement finds joy in their existence. The committing of the crime itself is enlightening to their spirit, the dare, the act of aggression, the breaking free of civil restraints gives personal satisfaction just like the satisfaction that gamblers spinning the wheel that will decide their fates, who live for that moment of dare and excitement get satisfaction.
All three, the artist, the criminal and the saint, come from social estrangement to seek the unknown, invisible force that enhances their existence through individual acts of personal freedom that assert their will against the inexorable forces of the universe that will obliterate them in the end. In these acts they achieve spiritual transcendence, no matter how brief, no matter how insignificant and important in the long run of human history and the existence of this world and the universe. They make a faint scratch upon the flat face of infinity.
Here are some contemporary saints I would like to mention: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Caesar Chavez, Malcom X, Ed Rosenthal who faces years and years in federal prison for helping the sick and dying by growing a natural herb that will help alleviate their suffering, Jeff Jones, the Oakland Pot club director who just got 90 days for passing out leaflets in Sacramento at the trial of another pot growing saint. The members of the School of Americas Watch who just got sentenced to prison for daring to step over a chalk line outside Fort Benning, Georgia where they train troops to kill peasants and religious and labor leaders in South America who are trying to help the poor.
Non-conformists all, they pay the physical price but achieve a spiritual transcendence.