Are Artistic Personalities Prone to Flirting with Disaster?

"All is Vanity" one of Charles Allan Gilbert's finest illusions.
"All is Vanity" one of Charles Allan Gilbert's finest illusions.
Satan I by H R Giger - Great illustrartion about how art is sometimes an idea [perhaps painful] inexpressiable in any other medium.
Satan I by H R Giger - Great illustrartion about how art is sometimes an idea [perhaps painful] inexpressiable in any other medium.
The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli   (1781) depicting a woman and two incubi.
The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781) depicting a woman and two incubi.
An Edward Gorey illustration - delving into whimsy.
An Edward Gorey illustration - delving into whimsy.
Dance macabre became a popular art form after the Bubonic Plagues.
Dance macabre became a popular art form after the Bubonic Plagues.

We all know it, that notable artists have this odd tendency of spiraling out of control and dying young, often due to self destruction. Van Gogh likely suffered from Absinthism from drinking the toxic substance on a routine basis. Da Vinci was the epitome a "looser," almost never completing the work he was being paid for, bouncing from one job/obsession to another, and often inciting the wrath of the church and religious leaders of the time. Socrates, who can be seen as an artist in the sense he questioned everything around him, continuously goaded the society around him until he was forced to poison himself with hemlock and die. Musicians have had such a hard time with sudden fame and drugs that's it's become a cliché since the Jazz age and possibly before. Hundreds of notable writers throughout history have been drawn to poverty, the stricken, death, depravity, and other miseries which many of them could have avoided. So what is it? Is it dwelling on the negative that causes depression and self-destructive behaviors or is it something else?

Nietzsche once claimed that art derives from pain. If this is indeed true than it'd go a long way to explain why so many artists of every ilk and flavor seem to be so predisposed to self-destruction. Nietzsche was also the first one to pen the thought that has become somewhat of a cheer, "What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger!" His final years he spent in the fog of madness which I can't honestly say made him any stronger so maybe that should be edited to say, "What doesn't kill you [or make you go stark raving mad] will only make you stronger."

Perhaps Edward Gorey was best at putting these observations into a humerous format. Keep in mind humor has also been accussed as being based on pain...

To his clubfooted child said Lord Stipple,
As he poured his post-prandial tipple,
'You mother's behaviour
Gave pain to Our Saviour,
And that's why He made you a cripple.'

[Excerpt from Edward Gorey's The Listing Attic]

In any event, is it true that all art is some outward expression of inner turmoil? Maybe. Personally I think a great deal of fantastic art may be driven by wounded souls but even I can't believe that all art is. Nonetheless, art itself beckons very specific personalities. Art is in all its forms is at least partially based on introspection and observations of life. This means that artists are all the kind of people apt to spend a great deal of time thinking about the big questions of life: Who am I? Where am I going? What is the point to existence? and so on and so forth. Dwell on these subjects too long and even a well balanced person will start to break.

Art is a funny thing. Most art isn't of any particular notoriety to its creator. We are surrounded by art at all times and yet we don't know the names of the people who sculpted the molds for all our bric-a-bracs, or the people who take photos for magazines, or the illustrators behind movie posters. This might be because society itself doesn't put terribly much emphasis on art and artistic endeavors. Look at the public schooling in the US and you'll see this is true. Whenever budgets are cut you can put money on the fact that the first classes to be cut out of the curriculum will be art and music! Gym class will always be around, floundering about trying to keep our children trim, and dreadfully failing, and yet art and music which has been proven to be very beneficial in advancing the mind is expendable in our current culture.

Still, with this being said, we are aware of certain artists. Most of know the names of at least a handful of painters, sculptors, photographers, etc and most people can rattle off dozens of names pertaining to music and acting which seems to be currently favored as the most recognized arts. This can come as a great challenge to those in these fields. Artists striving for fame or even a meager living will routinely have their egos and spirits crushed by critics, employers, and passersby often leading to the death of optimism and the crushing of self-confidence. Low self esteem and bad choices often follow in the swell of depression. On the other hand people who achieve great fame, particularly in a fast fashion, are thrown into a world of wealth, temptation, and very often destructive behavior. It's hard to be a nothing and then a household name. Notoriety can eat at the soul and infamy can kill it. Artists on this path are almost bound to fail, with the public's unwavering eyes picking up on every little mistake they often make one bad decision after another until they loose favor, and become a nobody again. The only thing is that once you're a somebody you can never be a nobody again. Falling from fame does not mean people will forget you; it means people will remember you negatively which can often be even worse!

And Gorey again seems to poke a little fun at this:

There was a young curate whose brain
Was deranged from the use of cocaine;
He lured a small child
To a copse dark and wild,
Where he beat it to death with his cane.
[ANother excerpt from The Listing Attic]

So I guess that's the answer... Art in and of itself seems to draw people who are already broken to it's alluring light. Meanwhile the artists "lucky" enough to achieve fame and fortune are then tested again and again and in the process are often shattered into even more directions. This all being said there are happy well balanced artists out there and a great many of them live to a ripe old age, so it really depends on the personalities involved, the society around them, the circumstances of their life, and what their art actually is.

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Comments 15 comments

alittlebitcrazy profile image

alittlebitcrazy 7 years ago

It is quite a phenomenon - the twisted, pained minds of artists who seem to thrive on their own misery for inspiration and talent. Very interesting. As an artist myself, I have noticed that periods in my life when I've felt the most rotten, depressed and torn apart, my artistic capabilities have ironically been at their best. Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed and related to it.


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

Great hub....the world waits for an artist with sugar in one hand and a whip in the other. An artist can only please their own heart....and then...be hurt because it pleases them. Thanks for writing this...again...great hub!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

And then there are the artists who create and only after they are dead is their art "discovered" and thought to be worthy. Many artists die poor and would be AMAZED at the prices paid for their art long after they are gone from this world.

Personally speaking (because I am also an artist) the other artists that I know seem to be well adjusted people. At least no one has cut off an ear yet. LOL


rgl100 7 years ago

I think it's the existential purpose of the artist to push the bounds, to test the limits of the human experience, pretty much all the time. As such the artist is bound to fail, pretty much all the time. And now and then the artist will find him/herself challenging power and privilege - inevitably - and then there will be the whirwind of derision [at the very least] to be reaped! The upside is that the artist is seldom bored.

Ho hum.

Happy days all round.


Cathi Sutton profile image

Cathi Sutton 6 years ago

I believe art is an expression of what the artist feels inside themselves, be it good, bad or indifferent. As an artist myself, I am compelled to pick up the brush, pencil, or clay. It has never really been a choice. And yes, at times I am alittle ... different, than the "average" person. Thoughtful Hub. Thanks.


Art 4 Life profile image

Art 4 Life 6 years ago from in the middle of nowhere....

I guess that artists do tend to be a little out there sometimes...I tend to think of myself as an artist, I love adventure,new experiences, and sometimes, I tend to push myself out of the usual comfort zones...I know I get bored a lot...so most anything can be an adventure, I guess it's how you look at it...LOL

gee, was I rambling or what?


catalystsnstars profile image

catalystsnstars 6 years ago from Land of Nod

Yes we are!! We have to be to be able to bring our imaginations to life. Most of us, I believe, are also constantly dancing on the edge of insanity if not already doing the tango with it.


starvagrant profile image

starvagrant 6 years ago from Missouri

When I started to write, as a 14 year old male, I thought it would be pretty cool to write and death and destruction. Then this thing called life happened and my work became more intricate and positive, despite a battle with mental illness that is long gone. I can't speak for my creative writing, since I seem to have been made for it. However, I'm a huge metal fan and that particular art sounds way best when I'm really angry (not often) and its best albums come from frustrated musicians. As far as artists and self destructiveness goes, perhaps you should read Lords of Chaos? Just a suggestion


philosotographer profile image

philosotographer 6 years ago

the saddest thing is most of the greatest artist are never truly recognized and or appreciated until after they are dead...


Baileybear 6 years ago

I agree with philosotographer. It is interesting that many famous artists (painting, music etc) were thought to suffer from mental illness like depression. I am a very creative individual, and depression is something I have battled (which I have written about)


BennyTheWriter profile image

BennyTheWriter 6 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

Excellent, excellent hub! I'm definitely the artistic type. Perhaps I'm "flirting with disaster" in the senses that 1) all art is risk-taking, 2) I may not be able to make a living at being creative, and 3) I feel like I MUST mentally explore the mind-bending philosophical questions that many people are seemingly able to blissfully ignore. So yeah, I kind of have recognized that "dangerous" trait in myself.


dfager profile image

dfager 5 years ago from Federal Way, Washington

Great hub and history lesson! Many great comments too. My opinion is I think the artist sees and perceives the world differently and expresses it in their art. The artist is different and often separated from others by their differences and this gives them more pain. When they express the pain in their art, it sets them even more apart.


Jasmine J Martin profile image

Jasmine J Martin 4 years ago from Australia

What I found particularly interesting about this article was this:

'This means that artists are all the kind of people apt to spend a great deal of time thinking about the big questions of life: Who am I? Where am I going? What is the point to existence? and so on and so forth. Dwell on these subjects too long and even a well balanced person will start to break. '

Isn't that the truth! Isn't ignorance a blessing?


Karmallama profile image

Karmallama 3 years ago from St. Paul, minnesota

Great hub! I believe an artistic mind is bound to see interesting things in any situation which can lead to "different" situations. I like your ideas.


Theophanes profile image

Theophanes 3 years ago from New England Author

Thank you Karmallama - I love your screen name by the way! It rolls off the tongue nicely!

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