Tortured Artists

Posted: August 5, 2012 in Creativity
Tags: , , ,

Do writers need to be hurt and depressed to crank out the best work?

Creativity and depression are linked.  There have been studies that show that those who are creative also have a tendency towards depression.  David Lynch  has described depression as his “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity.”  He states that a person needs to be in a positive state in order to create; to be able to catch ideas and explore.  This is a great paradox for many to digest who know Lynch’s work; some of the darkest I have ever seen.  Lynch has stated that for all the darkness there is also great light; there is balance.

Some research indicates that artists create as a sort of catharsis, a self-induced therapeutic activity to combat depression; I am inclined to agree.  I use writing to help me understand what may be confusing, troubling…I often feel that I have either no one to talk to or no one who would understand.  Again, I often write to understand and it does make me feel better.  This same research points to creativity being a result of depression; depression, itself, does not breed creativity, but an individual’s choice to combat depression breeds creativity; the need to explore, understand, empathize, uncover emotions and possibilities from various points of view.  Artists are hypersensitive human beings that need to exorcise thoughts and feelings into a creative art form.

I believe artists are at their best, however, when they keep on the sunnyside of life.  Creativity may be a form of catharsis, but I’m not sure a miserable creator makes the best work.

What are your thoughts?  A “tortured artist” is a cultural stereotype for creative types.  Do you agree with the general perception that the best artists are depressed individuals?  How do you relate to this stereotype?

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  1. beckony says:

    I don’t think that writers are necessarily “depressed” in the clinical sense, but that they assimilate things and feelings around them more easily. Like watching the news or reading a book affects me more than it does some of my less creative friends, but in my head I’m seeing characters and a life. Writers have to be, after all, funnels for emotion.

  2. Scribbler says:

    Great Post! I wouldn’t say the tortured artist is depressed. I would say he sees more detail than the average person. So instead of seeing a silver-lining in a big picture, he notices the minute detail and makes what he can of that.

    Also, the link between depression and creativity seems likely, since art is usually seen as an escape.

  3. I think this idea contains a grain of truth, but I wouldn’t carry it too far. Maybe those who are sometimes “depressed” have a tendency to examine situations more closely than those willing to accept any happy horseshit. I don’t think, however, that clinical depression often results in high creativilty. I’ve known some persons so terribly depressed they can barely function, let alone concentrate on a work of art.

  4. Ernie Schell says:

    Clinical depression is almost totally debilitating. The idea that a “depressed” person has the will and energy to create anything is an oxymoron. But I do think that creative people need to be dissatisfied with the status quo (in whatever arena interests them). One needs a dash of cynicism, a pinch of existential angst, and a heaping spoonful of determination to get the creative juices flowing, and that determination is usually to realize a vision of some sort, to make a point, to express an idea or galaxy of ideas in ways that the writer/artist/composer feels will have the greatest impact. There may be anger, resentment, outrage and other “negative” feelings involved, but there is usually a good deal of hope, optimism, and joy as well. Just look at Beethoven’s opus: he had a lot to be cynical about, a lot to overcome, and some of his music is dark and brooding, as he is often shown in his portraits. But one of his crowning achievements is the last movement of his last (9th) symphony, which he orchestrated to Schiller’s Ode to Joy. I rest my case!

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