In my intro to Creative Advertising class a few weeks ago, we watched a TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert, writer of the popular novel Eat Pray Love, speaking about her belief that the general idea that a successful artist must be miserable in order to create great works is a major faux-pas our society has imagined and what immense pressure that can put on an individual. That day, I agreed with her silently, as I’m sure most of my happy-go lucky classmates did, but today after considering how I personally create, I have changed my mind. The original theory that an artist must be miserable or depressed or grieving is something that, in my opinion, is very true. There is a reason the great artists such as Hemingway and Van Gogh led tragic lives but created great works of art. There is a reason this dogma has been widely accepted.
I consider myself when I analyze this theory. I think of the times when I would sit down to write or draw or paint, and I think of what those times had in common or what significance the timing of those events where. I realized that whenever a boy broke my heart I would write devastating stories filled with my heartache that would encompass everything into beautiful cadences. Whenever I would feel like a failure I would beat out my anger with charcoal, leaving finger smudges everywhere I went for days. And whenever I felt that there was no reason to continue living, I would bury my soul into my work which would be better then anything I had ever created in times of peace of mind.
I believe that what makes an artist is the ability to understand pain at such a fundamental level that it reduces the person to nothing, leaving them only with an empty canvas. I can not think of one time when I created something beautiful when I was happy, which leads me to my next point.
When we are happy, we are in the moment. We do not reflect and think, “oh I was so happy yesterday and look I am again today.” Dredging up the past is something done out of misery not joy. When we are happy we fly through our days and everything is a whirl leaving no time for creative thought or process. There is no need to bury you soul onto a page because you are too caught up in the frivolity of the present. When our life is spiraling, we look to the past and dutifully reflect on what we did wrong and how things could have been, which is usually depressing; the idea that we can see 20/20 hindsight but have no control over our past mistakes. We are creatures of regret. We do not know how to move on when things look bleak so we retreat into ourselves, however, this process can often bring beautiful inspiring works of art.
I am not romanticizing misery among artists or justifying suicide, I am simply asking you to think: is this a stereotype or is this an evolutionary truth? It may seem that I am glorifying that act of ending a tortured life, however, I am merely suggesting that maybe understanding pain is the key to recognizing happiness and these tormented souls are the bridge between these two planes of existence. We do not create out of happiness, we create out of pain in order to release demons that occupy our heart and leave no room for light.