The ‘tortured artist’ is a phenomenon that has prevailed for centuries, taking part in the celebration of perhaps hundreds of thousands of dead artists around the world who, outside of their groundbreaking works, were to live completely miserable lives. Whether it is a Hollywood actor putting his health on the line for the sake of ‘good’ art, a famous painter known for being an absolute nut case, or an old-time favorite writer who in the end, committed suicide. After their tragic deaths, many if not the majority of them are rewarded by our society for their impeccable services with the common gesture of having their names permanently framed on the wall of fame. Throughout back and forths between scientists, psychologists and art enthusiasts, and conspiracies being thrown around such as that mental illness may have a correspondence to creativity, or the best of art is only created in silent suffering, etc, one question has yet to be answered: how is the doomed artist made?

How is the doomed artist made?

It is quite simple to make up a list of creative minds from the past and look out for commonalities and patterns deeply inscribed into their tragic stories, however not to accept the dark cloud that follows most of these artists around for their entire lives. When you get the chance to have a conversation with a creative individual about the occupation of an artist, one thing is very clear; they are not viewed as functioning members of society. This is an ingrained issue that not only affects the financial security of anyone who chooses such a profession, but also challenges the mental stability of these people because one can not possibly cultivate a sense of belonging, self-acceptance and preservation from a place of constant judgment, ridicule and neglect.

I believe J.F. Kennedy said it best:

Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much.

From the earliest age, as infants we are told what is and what is not socially acceptable and which career paths offer ‘secure success’ and a potential lifetime of happiness with the intent of protecting each and every one of us from desolation or worse. In school, we may have been shown communal structures that we must follow and obey and at first glance, they may seem benevolent to the average person, however could end up severely damaging a group of distinctive people.

In many ways, the mind of an artist ticks differently. Its emotional response and level of intelligence is arguably far more distinguishable than any other spirit you will come across in your communities. Therefore, when its expectations are not met, its personal worth is not respected and it’s contributions to society are not recognized, they cannot similarly thrive amongst their peers, and utilize their strength with which to overcome despair. Furthermore, if the educational institution would place as much value and attention into métiers in the arts, it could guarantee a much more stable and secure future for the artistic individual and for those who choose similar creative paths, while putting an end to the glorification of a tormented life that the artist must desperately endure for the sake of ‘good’ art.

An artist deserves a place in society as much as anyone else.

The fortunate artist

To dismantle the stigmas around the life of a famous artist will save hundreds of thousands of lives for generations to come. The romanticization of harmful behaviors and ultimately leading to death is not significant enough to the process of ‘good’ art, but an idea that was placed in our heads without necessarily factual evidence that proves someone’s art to be 'better’ when it is made in pain. There comes a time where such narratives need to be terminated, so that new ones can emerge; disfiguring our current ideal artist into a healthier, self-accepting human being who obtains as much success and respect in his/her personal life as in his/her work. Just the thought of differentiating the artist is absurd and does not consider the fact that in the simplest of words, an artist is a person with an expressive talent, not supernatural powers.

Hey, what is even more courageous and admirable than taking one's own life? Seeking help. The imputation that discourages one to work on themselves is what keeps many away from a healthier lifestyle and pushes them more towards depression and self-destruction. This comes to say that it goes deeper than just a subscription at your local fitness center or deleting all social media apps for a month or so. Seeking professional help can unveil past traumas, sadistic habits that could contribute to the endangerment of someone's mental health and perhaps the question that we all wish to find an answer for: whether the doomed artist is born or man-made.

Some might say “could you even imagine Van Gogh’s painting having any impact without the backstory of him chopping one of his ears off?” I can assure you that I cannot. However, that is beside the fact that who knows what he could have painted in the best of spirits if we did not assume that his craft was limited to his suffering. Whether mental struggle is paired with creativity does not beg the question, however what if we collectively begin to uplift examples of optimism does. This fear rules above our perceptions and questions an artist's ability to create in the healthiest of environments, while failing to recognize a human being going through human experiences just like anyone else in society.

In closing, no matter how deep we have dug ourselves into this rabbit hole, it is never too late to start promoting change, beginning with reversing the cursed fate of many artists for the sake of ‘good’ art and longevity. Narratives can be replaced, social barriers can be removed and then life-changing concepts will take shape, finally bringing an end to this phenomenon that has outlived itself and destroyed far too many lives for it to remain.