Why is the Artist Tortured?

I know I should keep writing my drama novella, especially since I spent the morning running errands.  Sadly, I couldn’t find a Pumbaa doll for my son who wants a warthog, but the Disney Store just got a plushie shipment. Tomorrow might be the day.  Anyway, this is entirely irrelevant to this post.

I read and commented on a post by Tyroper, which got me thinking about a cliche of the artist.  There does seem to be a sense that a true artist is drunk, drugged, or nucking futs.  It’s almost as if there is a grand tradition of self-destructive and mentally abusive behavior within artists.  Edgar Allan Poe is a great example. He was an amazing author, but he is depicted as mentally unstable and drunk.  Whether this is true or an exaggeration is beside the point here.  The point is that it feels like this has become the ‘norm’ in many people’s minds.

I’ve been like this in that I make jokes that I’d be a successful author if I drank more or if I was institutionalized, but this usually said in jest or to get startled expressions.  I have no intention of entering the bottle or signing up to get put into a straitjacket.  I’d still be writing, but I wouldn’t be the same.  Sure, I have bouts with depression that can be crippling at times, but that doesn’t mean an artist has to be tortured.  I know many artists who are the epitome of sane and they’re still successful.  Sadly, I also know a lot of people who see me as an artist and take it upon themselves to ‘protect’ me from the trade.  They see my writing as a hobby that shouldn’t be taken seriously or a path that will only lead to pain and self-destruction.  I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything to earn this mentality, but they still watch me for signs of a alcoholism or mental instability.  True, I’m in therapy alongside my wife right now and I was in therapy for feeling like I was about to snap and kill someone in high school.  Yet, the fact that I’ve always been aware of my mindset and limits should be a signal that I’m fully capable of controlling my inner demons, vampires, orcs, and whatever other critters are lurking in my head.

I’ve wondered if the mentality steams from the way an artist thinks.  Personally, I don’t think the way non-artists think and that causes an odd barrier.  I can’t get excited about math and computers, but I will go on like a man possessed about writing.  I look at situations and try to stare down the road for possible problems instead of handling the here and now.  My side of a debate tends to be more than the simple ‘I’m for it/I’m against it’ mentality that many people have.  I talk about things that are beyond the physical world, artistic vision, and other things that someone who isn’t artistic considers odd.  Yet, I don’t really think this is enough to brand me as a candidate for any number of mental illnesses and an inevitable self-destruction.

So, where does the idea that an artist is tortured and unhinged come from?

Interesting link about Edgard Allan Poe:  Crazy Drunk or Brilliant Literaryist?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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8 Responses to Why is the Artist Tortured?

  1. tyroper says:

    There is too much romanticizing people like Sylvia Plath, or Hemingway. These are tragic life stories, not ones to emulate. Being an artist might mean being more aware of your senses. If so, live that sense filled life. Live it.


    • slepsnor says:

      You make some excellent points. I forgot about how some of the tragic artists are romanticized to the point where some people try to emulate them. Sylvia Plath is an excellent example too because I’ve met writers who openly claim that they hope to die like her after they are successful. It’s really creepy.

      You’re right that being an artist means being more aware of your senses. I know that I pay a lot of attention to the world around me and the emotions that they bring about in me. It causes me to be more open with all of my emotions while people around me keep their darker emotions hidden. That could be one of the reasons people mistake artists for tortured people.


  2. Al Kline says:

    I think most artists walk a tight rope over insanity creek most days.


  3. I think because they reach a depth that ‘non artists’ ever knows exist. I know when I’m in a particularly creative mode… my emotions tend to be a little on the raw edge. The ability to be fully in ‘control’ of emotions seems to be less available during those times.


    • slepsnor says:

      True. An artist needs to be able to access emotions to create. I know I tend to feel sad or angry if the scene I’m writing calls for it. Somebody who doesn’t create might not understand that.


  4. such a relevant subject. i think artists’ minds stretch a bit further than the non-creative person (or at least stretch into different areas than others). We have to to be able to produce something that has the power to move other people. But that same aptitude for grasping, discovering, creating also swings us between the heights of euphoria and the depths of depression. It’s a difficult way to live sometimes, but i wouldn’t trade my creative genes for more stable moods! great post!


    • slepsnor says:

      Thanks. I would say different areas is definitely a better way to say it. I know some creative people who are amazing at math while I still struggle with anything beyond the basics. It feels like we’re built to focus on different things in that respect.


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