Can Suffering Make You a Better Artist?

Or, Is the Idea of a Tortured Artist Just a Myth?

They say that the best love songs were written by the broken-hearted artist. Is it really true? Or, maybe an image of a wretched artist causes sympathy towards them, so we become more susceptible to their art.

photo by pierrick van-troost on unsplash

Yes, some great works of art were indeed made during an artist’s emotional turmoil (’Saturn Devouring His Son’ by Goya or ’Scream’ by Munch), but it still does not mean that you have to be unhappy to be able to create great work.

Generally speaking, artists are highly sensitive individuals, so it is natural that emotions, positive and negative, will inspire their action.

Suffering caused by broken heart, sorrow caused by loss, emotional reaction to injustice or world-weariness (Weltschmerz) can induce great personal distress and inevitably influence the lives of artists among us. Creative people have developed a particular way of confronting these emotions. During their creative process, artists transform that negative energy into something tangible (a piece of art) and then, they release it to the outside world – they let go of their pain.

Art can help all of us, not just the professional artists, deal with the deepest of pain. Otherwise, long-lasting sorrow can transform into depression, and depression is the archenemy of productivity and creativity.

Emotional pain and intensity of everyday life often lead to various addictions. Although drugs and alcohol can expand one’s consciousness and reveal exciting insights, when abused, they debilitate a person rendering an artist without the capacity to create.

Mental illness can sometimes force the mind to produce different mental pictures. Van Gogh (37) suffered seizures during which he had visions that he later transferred onto canvas – that is how some of the most beautiful Post-Impressionist works were created. Unfortunately, the same mental illness became the cause of his early demise.

We always tend to pity and admire artists whose suffering led to their tragic death like David Foster Wallace (46), Jackson Pollock (44) or Amadeo Modigliani (36), it could be because we live in a sensationalist society that feeds on personal tragedies. We forget that numerous other artists survived hardships and lived long and fruitful life like Auguste Renoir (78), Wassily Kandinski (78), Maya Angelou (86) or Charles Bukowski (74). These artists also had their share of suffering that they turned into art and went on living, creating and enjoying life.

Artists are just like other people. Other people suffer as well and fight with mental illnesses and addictions. Amy Winehouse (28) was not a great singer and songwriter because she suffered, but because she had a unique talent. Same goes with Marilyn Monroe (36) or Jim Morrison (28) – talented artists who faced problems they were not able to handle.

A healthy body is a source of infinite energy that can be turned into a business, artistic or any other creation.

Sound mind that is at peace with itself is a source of limitless creativity.

So next time when you are feeling down, instead of having a drink, Xanax or some other drug, take a piece of paper and pour your pain and sorrow all over it using words or colours. Or, play a joyful song that will chase away dark shadows; sing or dance your pain away!

Do not let your negative thoughts control you. Instead of giving in to negative emotions, deal with them by taking creative action.

Creativity leads to happiness.

If you are interested to learn more about the creative process, please check out the Deciphering Creativity podcast serial where I explain in details how ideas are created, what is Inspiration and what skills and habits you should develop if you want to become a better creative thinker.

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