You’ve heard the cliché many times, that the artist has to suffer to create good art. You’ve seen the examples. How perhaps the greatest American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, suffered from lifelong depression and finally ended his life with a shotgun.
My favorite composer, Tchaikovsky, suffered from melancholia his entire life. And finally ended his life when the orchestra performed his magnum opus poorly and the critics mocked him.
Sylvia Plath, author of the Belljar, a book about a highly intelligent and talented girl who just completely mentally loses it. She tried to end her life many times, finally succeeding by putting her head in the oven leaving and behind a family.
You could hear Beethoven’s manic depression in his music. You’ll literally hear the manic and the depression in the same symphonic movement.
Edvard Munch, the artist who painted The Scream, said my fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder… my sufferings are part of my self and my art.
They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.
Vincent van Gogh suffered from mental illness his entire life. No, he did not cut off his ear to give to Marilyn Monroe. He had already ended his life in 1890, decades before Monroe was even born. (Note that some historians do believe he was murdered and his death is still up for debate).
I personally loved the works of John William Godward, but he ended his life as Picasso was already on the rise and the art world was not big enough for both of them.
The list goes on and on
I could keep adding to this list, but I’ll probably bore you. We all know most of the greats suffered from depression. Many even ended their lives because of it.
So the eternal question goes – does the artist have to suffer in order to create great art?
The artist has to suffer
I strongly believe that art is feeling. If you don’t feel, you cannot create art. Whereas stoicism is great for philosophy, accounting, and stock and real estate investing, you’re simply not going to create great art being a stoic.
No offense to your accountant of course. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady.
But to feel requires pain. The most empathetic folks you’ll ever meet have suffered and will help absorb your misery since they’ve gone through something similar enough that they can relate.
Those folks are wonderful people. They create great art. And they’re way more likely to take their lives than your accountant.
(If you’re an accountant who also uses your right-brain quite well, you’re definitely an exception, a rare person indeed).
I love a good happy song as much as the next sappy guy. But the ones that really hit you. You know they’re the sad songs, right? Even Elton John sings about that. They say so much, right?
The same goes for music. But alas, music is the soundtrack for a painting anyways. Mussorgsky showed us that with his Pictures of an Exhibition. And speaking of suffering, he died at the young age of 42 as he slowly killed himself via alcohol. Yet in his short life, he left behind some beautiful pieces.
Don’t be afraid to feel
Too many folks are afraid to get hurt. I say if you’re an artist, then get hurt. That pain can go straight onto the canvas. Or straight into a song. Either way, that’s when artists create their best works.
Nobody ever wants to buy the work of someone with an easy life. No. They want to know you bled for that piece of art you produced. I’m not talking about some moronic pop song. I’m talking about real art.
Like Prince’s magnum opus Purple Rain, an album about the love of his life – Vanity, a girl he never could have.
Or how Freddie Mercury loved recklessly, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts. (While leaving his own empty).
And we all know Beethoven had his immortal beloved, who still to this day remains a mystery. Last time I checked, historians think she’s one of four different women.
Whereas Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, he’s talking about philosophy. Let’s take that phrase and turn it into something for artists. The heart that’s never been broken cannot produce great art. How’s that?