Many artists are famously known to have suffered from depression, mental illness, or have led impoverished lifestyles, sometimes the torment is obvious in the work they create, perhaps it’s what draws us to it, a connection to a similar inner darkness we may hold. And when artists die tragically at a young age it creates a certain mystique around them and their body of work, as if they had a deeper understanding of pain. Although we would never wish suffering on anyone, how different would the art world be without it?
There are often complaints about government cutting funding to the arts, and although it is great for a country to support and foster their culture, isn’t it partially the struggle that produces passionate art. Dickens surely wouldn’t have been as popular if he wrote Comfortable Times instead of Hard Times, Orwell purposely chose to work menial jobs in order to experience the working man’s life, chronicaling his experiences in Down and Out in Paris and London, Keroac went between living at his aunts and crashing on peoples couches, Henry Miller worked as a mail clerk, the list goes on, and of course the myriads of artists who were only discovered after their death and lived their entire lives in poverty. It’s the struggle that makes it easy to relate too, it’s comforting to realize there are others who have it as bad as you, or worse, someone who can understands and can conceptualize your pain. There are plenty of affluent artists too, but the more popular ones tend to comment on the ridiculousness of the posh lifestyle, with all it’s silly formalities and mannerisms.
I recently tried an anti psychotic drug that was given to me to help me sleep on a long plane flight. My friend had told me about a similar one she had taken and how she stopped taking it because of its affects, it caused her loose her more reflective thoughts, and although they were perhaps painful thoughts, it was better to have them than not. I experienced a similar feeling, after the pill set in I was unable to concentrate on any thought pattern, a word would enter my head, then fly out, I was unable to string together a coherent idea, it reminded me of the desired state of emptiness attained through meditation. This lasted for maybe an hour, before I fell into blissful sleep. Although I tend to over think and analyze everything, I feared what life would be like if I was in this constant numb state. Ignorance is bliss perhaps, but it doesn’t lead to a meaningful existence, and is it better to suppress the demons or allow these demons to inspire creative output?
If this sort medication was around in some artists lifetime, and no doubt it was for some of them, could it have made an impact on the art world? Would we have encountered more serene landscapes, and jolly Rockefeller-like depictions of life, rather than Munch’s The Scream and Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son? Although, I question how popular it would have been if it was available, there is a certain satisfaction in misery, perhaps even a feeling of superiority that you have been bestowed with insight into the true suffering of humanity, you have, in a sense, been outside the matrix, and there’s no returning to a naive existence.
Whether human suffering is an integral part of the creative process or not, for many artists, having a creative outlet may be their only escape from their burdens, and the best form of therapy. But any form of extreme emotion provides valid insight into a part of the human psyche, and people who are experiencing a bout of melancholy or strife are more likely to seek solace in art they can relate to as opposed to someone who is experiencing a period of joy feeling compelled to see cheerful portrayals of life, not to exclude art that evokes other powerful emotions, but pain is a particularly potent one. As So, although, it may not validate an artists ability, suffering perhaps draws a more captive audience, if only as mild comfort that we are not solely bearing the burden of life’s miseries, whether it’s a purveyor finding consolation in art or an artists reminding us, what all there is to be miserable about.