Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Art & Adversity

If you are a creator—painter, writer, ideator, musician, speaker—then prepare yourself for adversity. Every great work of art was created in the presence of/in spite of adversity. Elvin’s story recently reminded me of this universal truth.

copyright Robert Baggs (

A True Artist

Elvin is an 18-year-old student from Bužim, Bosnia and Hercegovina. We met a month ago when he showed up at our student center for Cafe Night. He moved to Sarajevo to study English a couple months ago and is slowly adjusting to the life in the capital. When I found out he was a writer, I gave him a copy of my book and we agreed to meet for coffee when he finished it.

Over a macchiato a couple weeks later, Elvin told me his story—his life in a small Muslim town, how the war affected his family, and his hopes for the future. He is working on a book. Not long ago he published an article through a web magazine that was widely read and celebrated. He has already expanded the article to ten pages and is developing it into a full book.

I encouraged him to keep writing and to keep sharing his work. After our coffee, he opened a facebook page for his poetry that already has over 1,000 “likes.” If you speak Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, you can read some of his work there.

Here is a translated excerpt from one of his essays:

“I heard someone talking about viruses as organisms on the edge of life and death. Do you think we are any different? You never know if you will experience the next morning, evening, a kiss or a hug; will you ever again see a shooting star. You know nothing about the moment of your death, about life’s transience. You know nothing about your fortune today, about the future. You know nothing about humans, about yourself. You are just a grain of dust hovering along with the wind God sends, a snowflake that melts on His palm.”

Elvin has an exceptional gift and a bright future.

True Adversity

Three weeks ago, during a holiday weekend, someone broke into Elvin’s apartment and stole his laptop. On his laptop was the only copy of his book. He was devastated. And when he told me, I was disappointed for him.

This always happens to artists. Right when the momentum begins to build—the words are flowing, the colors are flying, the pages are filling—something happens. Family adversity. Emotional adversity. Creative adversity. Criminal adversity. The entire project is put at risk. In the face of such a great challenge, many artists quit.

Elvin, however, continues on. Each day, he borrows a few minutes on a friend’s laptop to add a thought to his facebook page. He plans to rewrite the pages he lost—the second time around they will be even better. He is moving forward towards his dream.

True Art

Something amazing happens when an artist moves forward in the face of adversity—true art. Bold, beautiful, profound expressions of life and our world. Works that lift our eyes to something bigger, engage our hearts with something deeper, and make our lives wider and fuller.

Only in the cauldron of adversity is true art formed. (you can tweet that if you want)

Also, people like to support true artists in creating true art in the face of true adversity.

Elvin received a message last week from a friend’s friend who had discovered his work on facebook. She wants to financially support Elvin in the writing of his book. He told her he would start working on it again when he replaces his stolen laptop. She offered to buy him a new one.

If you are trying to create something and you are facing adversity, there is a special name for that—ARTIST.

What adversity are you facing? Let me know in the comments below.

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