The suffering artist

 anniec (@anniec) 5 years, 10 months ago

I was reading an article earlier today about the history of the whole’ suffering artist’ and creation. It annoyed me slightly because I think the whole notion of ‘art’ and its link with human suffering is perhaps something we have invented, derived from a couple of ‘ great works’ eg ‘Van Gogh prospered because of mental distress, obscurity and ear mutilation’
The suggestion that if you are not hurting, your work is pointless, this applies to the ‘genius depressed writer who attempted suicide before a best-seller or the talented musician grieving for his dead son produces his best album yet. The idea that a period of mental instability to draft a poem or get a Number 1 hit seems ridiculous. Have we romanticised the idea of the suffering artist because we enjoy this necessary darkness because it makes us, as the consumer feel better about ourselves? or is case that a piece of work can only be meaningful if the artist suffered? a myth or a phrase? Interested to hear other views. In the meantime, I’ll be starving myself in the attic for several days to see if it will enhance potential creativity .

July 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm
Anonymous (2,653) (@) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

“Have we romanticised the idea of the suffering artist because we enjoy this necessary darkness because it makes us, as the consumer feel better about ourselves?”

It’s more of a “hey ever felt like shit? me too, I’m not going to be pretend to be tough”. It touches in what people call “deep sincere” way. Because everyone acts so tough without any weaknesses. I… used to make music without eating for a week, but that was just a habit, I wouldn’t be as productive if I was filling my fucking guts with food all the time and thinking always about feeling comfortable. I didn’t even starve, it was just how much I needed and it’s about a fucking habit. That’s it! Although yeah, some artists are really too self-destructive, self-obsessed with their own personal drama and do it because it’s just the thing that makes them feel alive, pure expression. And of course, sometimes they forget that the fucking drama doesn’t involve whining and not hard working individual with an actual talent. There’s no beauty in whining. Only in sincere authenticity.

Jeslyn (594) (@jeslyntweedie) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

This TED talk is the very best exact answer to what you’ve posed here. Why ‘suffering’ artists have the dangerous potential to be doomed to ‘suffering.’

If you are creative at all, have met with the creative process before and have that total understanding that your creativity almost ‘flows’ from somewhere else. Inspiration. Muses. Only sometimes. Almost with lightning, when you write, paint, draw, create anything, it just comes out of you?

Well, watch this, it is brilliant, and inspiration in itself.

Ellie (1,358)M (@tangledupinplaid21) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

I can see your point, and it doesn’t have to be so black and white… but Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” IS about a lot of depressing shit, and fucking BRILLIANT!
I am an artist myself and I think maybe the reason art can be really beautiful when borne out of misery is the fact that, sometimes there comes a time when you have nothing left,
and have to throw what’s remaining of yourself into the only thing you CAN do. (Haha, I sound like the exact stereotype you’re annoyed with.)

But for real, I’ve experienced that.

I have also experienced being overwhelmingly joyfully inspired and making some really cool shit too!

Anonymous (2,653) (@) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

@tangledupinplaid21, It’s still better to express it in a form of art, rather than reflect the suffering toward others. There is a good drama and there are these shitty drama attempts which produce bad art. Some of them are disasters. :D

aneesh (18) (@aneesh) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

@anniec, There’s nothing more human than suffering.. It takes huge courage to put your REAL feelings into your work and putting it out there for everyone to see. You make your (truest) self susceptible to public scrutiny. I’d say that’s one of the reasons why a lot of famous artists did suffer and end up killing themselves.

JASK (18) (@jshmedler) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

sorrow is the easiest emotion to express.. by far, and one that everyone can relate with and actually seeing others sorrows will sometimes make us feel happy. then i would proabably say anger is the next, then love, then hapiness. last is probably boredom haha

DaJetPlane (994)M (@lytning91) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

I think you take something as intense as suffering and you take a person embodying those feelings…

…and then you take someone ‘average’ who does not know exactly the firsthand feelings, btu has empathy and generalized understandings of the emotions of the sufferer.

From here, a genuinely purposeful message is easily conveyed from the creator to the receiver. For those who are familiar with the angst, they relate and grow from the understanding that they are not alone in their feelings. For those who have the ability to empathize, they gain a glimpse at a series of feelings they may not have felt before.

It is like when we watch a movie with intense drama or fear: we sit down, empathize for a few hours, reflect, but then…and here is the magic:

We move on. We get to leave. Whereas the sufferer must stay with their suffering, we get the golden opportunity to relate without the commitment. It’s a whole lot of things for us, one being a cleansing. To sink oneself into the darkness, knowing you’ll emerge again soon…

Alex (12) (@alexico) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

i dont think that its our vampiric, voyeuristic fascination with the suffering of others that makes us drawn to suffering as expressed in art…at least not for all of us. i think its probably more to do with our ability…or natural inclination to relate to the feelings others express in art that makes the art become “famous”..btw i feel that most art created solely for the purpose of attaining fame/fortune tends to lack any depth or soul, as such motives are opposing those which nurture great art…but when you look at mainstream media you can see that we still eat that shit up like candy, so what do i know… i guess we seek out what our souls crave. idk..i dont think that suffering artist are the only ones who create valid and soulful art. yet im sure even the most happy and content artist has at some point experienced the less enjoyable emotions. and that balance within them is what fuels their hunger to express and share with others who can say “yes…nail on the head! im not alone in my suffering and that is something to be happy about!”

MsKisa (20) (@mskisa) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

I am an artist and I’m bipolar, so I’m not really able to experience being an artist outside of that ‘tortured’ category. I can say that I have created things that are great in both mania and depression and I wouldn’t take either experience back for the world.

downtherabbithole (16) (@downtherabbithole) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

Just a thought….
A lot of the times when someone is suffering, they feel truly alone and are reaching out for understanding, or sometimes just acknowledgment. They want to be seen. They don’t want to feel alone. The art that they are creating is the method by which they seek the attention of others. They create because they NEED to get it out to clear out their psyche. Sometimes art is the way in which we process the poison inside us and get it out of our system. “Here’s what I’m feeling right now. Here it is, simple and raw. Here it is on paper, and for now, my mind is clean” I know that, for me, there’s no better catharsis than a few hours of uninterrrupted painting. Also, when we’re suffering, we often want to be alone. When we’re alone, we create. When people are happy they often want to spend their time among other people, and unless they’re collaborating, chances are they aren’t doing as much creating.

At least for me, living in the dark fuels creativity. Living in the light fuels creativity. Living in the middle…just isn’t as interesting. I have to say though, I’d much rather be creating from a place of light, given the choice.

anniec (29) (@anniec) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

Cheers guys, for your interesting and thought provoking’ views, Its new learning for me.

I found a Gauguin quote ”It is true that suffering sharpens one’s ability. But it is necessary not to suffer too much or it will do you in.”
So, It’s not so black and white then. Its not essential for the artist to be in a state of deep suffering to produce great art but as he is compelled to express feeling, a period in the darkness or a struggle with bleak side of life is inevitable. Even the contented artist will make sacrifices to create, The penniless artist and out of work actor is not a myth- It can’t be easy to make a living and pay the bills. Fear the consumer cannot relate and appreciate your hard work, and the stress of continuing to expectations once you succeed.

Dan (890) (@danfontaine) 5 years, 10 months ago ago

So you mad cause you not sad?
Or u mad cuz u bad?

stonedragon (142) (@stonedragon21) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

@anniec, great what you said here. it is true that a REAL artist needs to communicate from his or her heart and this is often filled with pain. real creation comes from a very deep level and often artistic expression is like a type of therapy for the artist. this coupled with financial struggle can equal the image of the “suffering artist syndrome”.
there are times that us artists can express sheer joy as well as a large range of emotions. and if this is not done for monatery gain then art becomes and expression of the true self. and it is always brilliant and glorious.

Ray Butler (1,422)M (@trek79) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

The thing with art is it does not specify one aspect of emotion, it encompasses the vast spectrum of human feeling. The fact that a lot of art is of this suffering style is simply because the world is full of suffering. But there is plenty of art from all angles of expression and a lot of happy work is just as good as any miserable work. I’m sure DaVinci is probably the most emotionally stable person ever to exist, but his work is brilliant.

Manimal (2,993) (@manimal) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

Ego drama is what fuels art. And in many cases, the more fucked up you are, the more interesting your art is.

Complexity is suffering, but complexity is also what spikes our interest.

That’s what art therapy is all about, you express your mental chaos in the form of art and that makes it easier to let go. Also gives you more insight and perspective.

I think that may be the reason why art exists. That people unconsciously resort to art for that very reason. Though just a theory, of course.

Jeslyn (594) (@jeslyntweedie) 5 years, 8 months ago ago


Art exists for empathy, for expression–having to do with all of the emotional levels. Not just suffering. Expression of the self and the collective species at the same time.

It can be intense though–since it’s manifestation in a physical and therefore share-able form, and bringing intensity and suffering together is what causes issues for some.

Being able to detach from emotion, creativity, and yet still work very closely side by side with it is desired.

Again, the TED talk I posted here before is very good.


Art helped along creative thinking too–solutions to problems in different ways–new tools from spring up at around this time as well.

“Stone Age man’s first forays into art were taking place at the same time as the development of more efficient hunting equipment, including tools that combined both wooden handles and stone implements.”

Art is a lot of things. I don’t think there’s just one ‘reason’. :)

Manimal (2,993) (@manimal) 5 years, 8 months ago ago


I never said it must be suffering. I said ego drama, I never said it was bad. It’s what makes life stimulating and interesting, everyone has it. I’m not one of those pseudo-buddhists who hate ego drama.

I’m an artist myself, and I don’t suffer.

Reminds me of a song:
(very profound lyrics)

Jeslyn (594) (@jeslyntweedie) 5 years, 8 months ago ago


I was building and relating to the OP. If you’re talking about just art in general.

I think there’s a lot to be said of sacred geometry and the art of nature as well. It is not a merely human form of expression either :)

dragonsong (2) (@dragonsong) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

I write a lot of poetry and have found that it’s easier to write about negative emotions or while not in the happiest stage for the sole reason of when I’m happy, I want to go out and enjoy life and the feeling instead of sitting in my room analysing why I’m feeling the way I do. The arts are also a very powerful healing tool and creative outlet so people going through a hard time feel more drawn to them. You can be very artistic and creative without suffering, it just happens that when people fall on hard times, they feel more inspired to either try and get themselves through the feelings via drawing or other creative outlets.

Milo (57) (@milo) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

Suffering happens to everyone at different points. Good artists can use it as inspiration but great artists find inspiration in all their feelings (not just sadness).

Yall need to read this book Aurelia. It was written by this fellow named GĂ©rard de Nerval. It’s very expressive and you can clearly feel him suffering throughout parts of it. He hung himself right after he finished writing but it’s really something else. The word beautiful comes to mind.


I’m not sure that suffering improves art. However, the two will always be linked together until the majority of artists find a way to stop being so poor.

Ellie (1,358)M (@tangledupinplaid21) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

@generaltitsvonchodehoffen, LMFAO!!! Please let me steal this quote…


@tangledupinplaid21, All yours.

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