Are Artistic Personalities Prone to Flirting with Disaster?
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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