Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tortured Artists

I'm in the middle of doing research for my in-class poetry presentation (tomorrow, eek!) and it's got me thinking. Many poets, musicians, actors, filmmakers, heck even fashion designers, have a history of depression, bad upbringings, romantic misfortune and general unhappiness, that leads to a significant portion of brilliant, artistic people choosing to end their lives. Without so much as touching Google I can already name names: Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, and Kurt Cobain.

What is it about the burning drive to create that leaves so many lives deccimated? Even those artists who died natural deaths had miserable lives. From a literary perspective, there's Keats and Eliot. Keats' naturalistic style and gentle disposition attracted abuse and public belittlement through his shortened life. Eliot's first marriage was miserable, causing him to turn to alcohol until his wife died from a vareity of (physical and mental) issues. Emily Dickinson lived life as a near-recluse and nary a word of her work was published until after her death - even then, the first available tome had been heavily edited, removing nearly all of the quirks that characterises her writing.

The gruelling conditions of the professional music and acting world has turned so many to drugs, alcohol and similarly damaging habits. The scrutiny of the paparazzi, difficulties of long-distance romantic and familial relationships and social pressures of 'being famous' are bad enough for those who choose not to partake in the almost-expected substance abuse. Is the 'tortured artist trope' some psychological of physical malady which strikes only 'creative types', or is it a product of the demands and perceptions imposed on them by society? Yes, there are numbers of celebrities and notables from various spheres who lead content and almost ordinary lives. But personally I think the list of those with problems culminating in suicide, social retreat and/or professional retirement are is a little too long to ignore. Generally I don't advocate the use of Wikipedia for research, but it looks like I'm not the only one who has thought along these lines:
Wikipedia page of writers who committed suicide.
Wikipedia page of actors who committed suicide.
Wikipedia page of musicians who committed suicide.

Creating can be awfully lonely and the stress of professional artistry... I can't imagine it. Having been involved in amateur theatre as crew, writer, director and actor (as various times for various projects) and volunteer magazine writing (contributing poetry, prose and articles), I have a vague idea of the pressures, fears and processes involved in making your work public. I don't know what it's like to receive criticism, worry about making money from your work, fear competition or plagiarism, or be under scrutiny. It seems like every creative profession comes 'under fire' at one time or another. As an avid reader of blogs and an online shopper, I witness scandals and shady dealings with alarming frequency. Attacks, secrets and bad business happen often. There's was the Mineral Makeup Mutiny movement (now sadly abandoned), which attempted to warn people against independant sellers who repack wholesale pigments and products, and try to pass them off as something they 'created' through hard work and innovation. This is differnet to mainstream labels purchasing private label cosmetics because the independant companies are actually lying about the products, and often charging a ridiculous amount for something that could very easily be obtained from the wholesaler directly, for a margin of the price.Unfortunatley now there's the in-rank fighting, with companies and individuals attempting to discredit others through underhanded and frankly appalling tactics.

Why do artists get such a hard time? Every time I dream of being published, or wonder if I should start up an Etsy store to sell jewellry, I think of the drama that will eventually accompany it, and I think that I should probably finish my uni degree before I set myself up for more trouble (that doesn't stop me from biting off way more than I should in the theatre club, though)!

Until next we meet,

P.S. I promise I'll get to the planned posts after I finish this presentation! I was going to make banana bread today and take photos for the post, but I accidentally over-slept this morning and ran out of time :/


  1. >>What is it about the burning drive to create that leaves so many lives deccimated?<< I think you've got your cause and effect the wrong way around. Incredible unhappiness can lead to this burning desire to create.

  2. Cayt, I didn't mean to discount that side of things. I wrote more easily - and better - when I wasn't taking my anti-depression medication. I'll agree that a lot of creative types are initially or persistenly "down". That being said I think that sometimes the pressure of being 'professionally creative' can cause an otherwise happy person to become unhappy. I don't think I entirely mixed up the "cause and effect".


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