To The Tortured Artist.....Get Over It / by Geoff Harrison

The recently departed author/actor Bob Ellis once claimed that artistic talent is not something you are born with, it's grafted onto you by a wound.  As much as I admired Ellis, in this instance I believe he was talking bollocks. 

And why?  Because many people who have suffered injustices (either perceived or actual) respond by inflicting harm on others rather than resorting to art.  The question as to why different people respond in different ways to adverse circumstances is something I wouldn't even contemplate answering.  All I know is that if I'm feeling down about aspects of my past, the last thing I feel like doing is picking up the paint brush.  To me it's logically impossible.

Big magic.jpg

In her book "Big Magic", author Elizabeth Gilbert has some interesting thoughts on the topic of the tortured artist.  Gilbert argues that we must love our art and our art must love us.  "Nature provides the seed, man provides the garden, each is grateful for the other's help."

I have no doubt that some remarkable art has been the product of delving into the depths, but I doubt if the artist was wallowing in it at the time.  To me it's like looking back inside a tunnel from the outside, "yes, it was like that but it's not like that now".  To  me, the work of the tortured artist relies on past issues never being resolved, which begs a question.  What would happen to the art practice if he/she was suddenly at peace?

Gilbert quotes Francis Bacon "The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than feelings of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch  your whole sensibility".   That may be the case but I bet Bacon wasn't feeling desperate whilst he painted.  Mark Rothko apparently wanted people to break down and cry in front of his paintings.  Then when he became ill and couldn't work any longer, he committed suicide. 



The price some artists pay for their pain!  Gilbert believes that many young artists today are told that if they want to become creative, they must open up a vein and bleed.  "Trusting in nothing but suffering is a dangerous path.  Suffering has a reputation for killing off artists.  But even when it doesn't kill them, an addiction to pain can sometimes throw artists into such severe mental disorder that they stop working at all."

I particularly like this comment of hers; "I believe our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies - not from the pathologies themselves.  But many people believe it's the other way around."  So I come back to an earlier comment - love who you are and what you do.