Does Depression Make For Good Art?

Trigger warning: this article uses suicide metaphors.
Pascal Janssen
Pascal Janssen

“It’s more than a word. More than a breeze that stops by once awhile. It’s a corporeal being. Another space to explore and sit on and spend time with to get used to.

When you spend too much time in there, that space becomes a part of you. Or you become a part of it. And at some point it shows in your daily movement. Like [the thoughts that cross your mind] when you gaze at an ordinary object, or even when you’re peeling potatoes at 3 in the morning. The space rests between your movements, your words. It shows… I write to understand that space.” Myrtle Yvonne, Poet and Painter

To the creative spirit, depression can be both seed and poison.

Think of your brain as a gun, depression as a bullet. Each bullet breaks through one artistic barrier after another, shattering limits you may have unconsciously imposed upon your creative self. Guns usually have a safety to ensure you don’t accidentally fire a bullet, or two, or three.

For the depressed, our guns are a little different. We don’t have that safety catch attached – a few were broken by something some time somehow, others never had one installed at all. And instead of using those bullets with restraint as a creative outlet, we are in danger of turning the gun on ourselves.

“For some reason, I have this idea that I’ll find the rotting core [of me] by destroying this self… By hurting it. By clinging to the dark, [practicing that which is] harmful for this being. But, like all others, these things also motivate me to create something. 

Let’s put it this way: I keep holding the blade although it fucking hurts then I write poetry about the blood. 

Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Myrtle muses as she prepares to leave her house and buy herself a drink.

But these musings don’t answer the old question (or is it now a trope?) – does depression make for good art? Or can I now proclaim my childhood therapist a prick when she read my diagnoses to my father whilst exclaiming, “Oh, she’s a writer? No wonder… Don’t worry, dear, those who have clinical depression usually excel in the arts!” as if to say “Her tests indicate she enjoys the arts AND she’s depressed? That totes makes sense.”

Is there any truth to this pretentious detrimental stereotype? The young writer pauses,

“Maybe in some cases. Because there are people who are attracted to the dark, and create art from the society-made concept of dark…

Depression creates the artist, but it doesn’t necessarily make the art better. I think I just wanted to see life through self-painted glasses. Personally, I think my art wouldn’t be what it is if not for that space. I paint my sadness, my numbness – and when I’m done I feel as though it’s worth the ache.”

This line of ideas must be taken with a grain of salt.

Many a times creative souls have misguidedly romanticized mental illness – Adult critics who have declared Sylvia Plath’s poetry genius owing to her mental affliction and personal tragedies, young writers unable to separate the ‘coolness’ of Bukowski’s alcoholic crutch from his literary talents.

Myrtle scoffs at this, “[When people romanticize depression on an artistic level] I think that’s stupid. Putting all the piece’s substance in a certain category. A poem, a novel, an art piece is good because it makes you smile, it makes you sad, it makes you laugh.

It does something to you because you feel like the piece contains some truth. Some nameless truth. Not because the artist was depressed or lived a tragic life. [Artistically] depression can depend on how you want to treat it, I think. And for me it’s a hole I want to fill – with words and sketches.”

It seems depression can make AND/OR break the artist’s soul.

But depression aids in art only, AND ONLY, if it is extracted with precise, measured control. So how do you use your depression creatively without romanticizing it or allowing it to abet in your self-destruction? How to control it, you say? How to control it such that it does not intrude upon your thoughts, your social obligations, your quest for hominal joy, and instead stirs you to produce masterpiece after masterpiece?

You can’t. At least not completely without constant risk and temptation.

I have no hopeful thought for you. No inspirational spiel. Just my fervent prayer that you and I will keep making beautiful art, strange art, powerful art, without feeling the need to sacrifice our health or sanity. That you and I will keep withstanding – another second, another minute, another hour, another day.

May it be easier than the last. TC mark

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