The Tortured Artist – By @gabygrant_

The Tortured Artist

The other week I was watching Alexander McQueen’s documentary on BBC iPlayer and it really got me thinking about the tortured artist stereotype. 

Since I was little, I have been told that in order to be an artist you have got to absolutely love making art to the point that you wouldn’t be able to do anything else with your life and that you would live and die by your work. But what does this really mean and why does it not apply to any other profession? I believe the answer is money. The only reason an artist needs to feel that they couldn’t do anything other than make art is because there is no guaranteed money in being an artist. You are willing to suffer the torture of being broke for your art. You are willing to suffer for your work. 

I believe that this idea of suffering for your work is incredibly unhealthy to your artistic expression. Yes, making art can be painful because it is so symbiotic and intertwined with your identity but that is not to say that you should suffer or feel tortured. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted talk on Creative Process V Creative Energy talks about the pressure that creative people feel to produce their best work all the time and that once you have one success, it is rare to strike gold again. Her solution is to see our creativity as an entity that is separate to ourselves, consequently relinquishing the responsibilities to produce gold every time. This is something that I am trying to understand and adopt. Moreover, when I have been suffering with anxiety, my brother has often told me to try see my thoughts as separate to my being and try not to attach emotion them. This idea of thoughts, ideas and your creative self being separate to you are very foreign to me and I find it difficult to believe that it would be possible to separate these things. My work has always been about me. How would I produce work if I separated myself from my creative self along with my thoughts and ideas? Can you make art, or at least anything good if you aren’t tortured? 

Ultimately, I don’t want to be end up like Alexander McQueen, Jackson Pollock or Amy Winehouse. But doesn’t it seem like only the good ones die? Will I be any good if my life doesn’t end in self murder? 

I believe the narrative needs to be changed. You shouldn’t be told that you have to want to live and die for your art because it just sets you up to fail and suffer severe mental health issues. Given, creativity isn’t like every other job but it isn’t that dissimilar either. People have passion for science, law, economics and those people aren’t encouraged to make or die. There needs to be more hope in taking on being an artist as a profession. Hope of a bright future with a steady income, free of fear and torture. As an artist I refuse to accept that my life will be filled with uncertainty and dissatisfaction. I am an artist but it is also my job, not my poison or my curse. 

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