‘tortured artists’: a note

“The myth of ‘You have to be a tortured artist’ is a myth. You can have a happy, healthy life and still go to all these crazy dark places in your writing, and then go home then go play with your child and hug your wife.”

– Dr Lin-Manuel Miranda

The year is 1870. Vincent van Gogh is  a crazily talented man who is terribly troubled and misunderstood. Nobody buys his work. Nobody cares to read his letters, and he spends much time in isolation. Time passes, and he grows more and more lonely. 1890 rolls around, and he (allegedly)* commits suicide. He dies in the arms of his brother. People start to notice him once he’s died. “His work – it’s almost as if you can see his pain!” It’s believed by many that he wouldn’t have been able to produce any his best works had he not been in such dark places so often. His work becomes a hit, and he accrues posthumous fame. The tortured artist trope is born.

Following his death, and long after, many people subscribe to the idea that those suffering will create the most beautiful things. This idea is affirmed by tragic losses such as Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway. The question: does mental illness make for better art?

I study English at university, along with my other three subjects. In the literary field, you’ll come across countless artists who were mentally ill, and claimed that the mental illness enabled them to write as well as they did. Some pseudo-scientific studies have shown a clear link between depression and good poetry, but I disagree with them almost entirely. Unfortunately, mental illness is romanticised to the nth degree, thanks to the likes of tumblr, and the idea that you need to endure some form of affliction to be great is frequently taken to be gospel truth. to  I’m saying what Lin-Manuel Miranda is saying – that the myth that you have to be tortured to make good art is a myth.

I’m certain that mental illness can inspire art. My experience has inspired my writing and my choices when performing on stage. I don’t, however, believe that a poem written about heartbreak by a happily engaged person, would pale in comparison to that of a heartbroken person.

I’m of the opinion that the ability to transcend your own experience in your artform is one of the highest forms of art. To get into another’s frame of mind without being in that frame of mind yourself takes a massive amount of skill, and the idea that your work would be inferior because of your transcendence sounds highly unlikely to me.

love and light,
shalom xo

*there is speculation that good ol’ vanny may have been murdered,but it’s all a bit sketchy.

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