Does making art have to hurt in order to be good? In our society painkillers are welcome. In all circumstances, this belief may sound cruel and appalling. Psychology has killed a lot of myths in art but not the notion that an artist must suffer in order to produce good art, and artists shouldn’t medicate because then they are not assisted by despair and grief and then not sensitive enough. While it’s also true that artists have access to a creative way of life that can sustain them through dark times and have used and will use their craft to transform what they can of life’s pain, it is simply cruel to assume that any human being can somehow benefit from such punishment. Furthermore, art isn’t always from a place of great pain, but it often comes from a place of great emotion.
It’s unpleasant to see people unhappy and people self inflicting pain. A writer being purposely unhappy because writing provides a glorious reward in life is borderline criminal. A writer should instead settle down and write then he or she might create things. Still the popular belief is that all great art comes from pain. Van Gogh who suffered from anxiety, absinthe addiction, and debilitating seizures painted Starry Night while in emotional turmoil. Lennon and McCartney forged their creative partnership following the death of their respective Mothers, and Milton wrote Paradise after losing his wife and eyesight.
The people who oppose the view that pain is a requirement for producing good art are, in large, Artists themselves. They have had enough with what they see as groundless and false maintained by romantic tales of Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out and Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven.
Jeff Tweedy the idle rocker in an interview in 2011 called the concept of the tortured artist “damaging mythology.” There is no rule saying artists have to be inspired by their pain to make art. Artists should have the opportunity to draw inspiration from a wide range of emotions whether the experience be positive or negative. For some artists, being medicated may be a cause of concern. Some may wonder whether the creative juices are still there and whether they can create while medicated (due to the affirmation from society that an artist must be a tortured being). If you alter that a bit, you lose everything that is creative about you. In fact, many artists who have given in to medication out of hopeless and out of despair have found that they were not feeling anxious, were able to focus on work without distractions. Calm, in control, focused engagement with inner peace, they were able to plan new work.
Not being drained with more energy they found balance and were happier to be doing what they loved, art. One can work without the mental exhaustion and be a teller of truth without having to live through pain. There is no stigma in being medicated. It is not a sign of weakness nor admission to failure but a better way to live.
The problem of the day, in my view, is not whether an artist is medicated or not but the new challenges of fast growing technology and science and keeping up with the pace. While it’s true that technology and science have made our lives so much better by relieving us from hard manual labour and prolonging life, it has also had negative effects on mother nature while damaging the environment and humanity.
Art struggles to understand these changes and is especially challenged to communicate its visions of this fast changing world. There is no problem without a solution and artists will always find a way out of the maze and work through entrapments, finding the necessary balance between art, technology, and science.