I hate cliches, but I can't help but think of the old adage "if life hands you lemons, make lemonade" when I see the art and hear the story of Sue Williams. Her life was filled with so much pain - she suffered things on first dates that people don't usually face in war time. Her body was used and abused, and through this horror she has created such works of beauty. Not through, even. That's not the right word. Not "in spite of" either. It is truly as if the pain itself was a tool (or, dare i say, inspiration) for her incredible paintings.
Not that her story matters. I mean, of course it matters - but her giant calligraphic pieces are incredibly beautiful just as visual art. Her use of line and color are astounding. She really does represent a new abstraction, and it is so appealing. An interesting question might lie here: Would she be able to (or even want to) create this incredible art without the pain she had suffered?
I have a friend (who will here remain nameless) who suffered traumatic illness and surgery at a young age. Left with no colon and other, more grievous physical and emotional injuries - she has created some of the most interesting and radical art that I have had the luck to see first-hand. For her, the illness itself is definitely inspiration - she actually used to talk about being thankful that she was sick, because it gave her an artistic purpose. I can't help but wonder, though, if she would have even turned to art if she had never been so close to death. Also - in a bizarre twist - she is having trouble finding inspiration lately, mostly because she now knows that she will not die soon. She explained to a good friend of mine that she never expected to live this long, so she has no real idea of what to do.
We all know the cliched idea that without pain, there can be no pleasure in life, and that we all must take the good with the bad and the hideous. So much art, whether visual, auditory, textual, is borne from pain. One rarely reads a poem or hears a popular song that isn't about pain of some type. To create art, I assume one has to have something to say. Without a message (about life, technique, SOMETHING) art is kind of relegated to craft. I always been somewhat disappointed that I never excelled at visual art as a kid, and it wasn't something that I had a passion or real talent for. I wonder if my pain wasn't enough for art - or maybe my way of expressing that pain is just different from those who can paint it. It would be a tough choice to make - would I be willing to take a bullet to the lung to create the kind of abstract beauty of a Sue WIlliams? Or would I suffer through life with no colon to feel truly artistic?