Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Myth of The Screwed Up Artist and How It Hurts Us All

There is so much hype about artists and the artist personality.  Artists are allowed to be, maybe even expected to be, screw ups. There is an idea out there that somehow one needs to be a little screwed up in order to be creative.  But this is simply not true.  Artists are people who have chosen to produce a product for others, sometimes a useful product in the case of pottery or furniture or clothing, sometimes utterly use-less product, in the case of wall art or jewelry or sculpture or other purely decorative items.  We do what we do to enhance the aesthetics of our surroundings and sometimes, to provoke thinking about an issue or to teach something to our audience.  That requires sanity and thoughtfulness and organization skills and disciplined habits and a healthy lifestyle.
A successful artist is a person who is normal and conventional in most respects.  An artist lives in a home and responsibly pays the rent or mortgage about at the same rate as other people. An artist eats meals to stay healthy and sleeps to renew.  An artist doesn't drink excessively or take drugs because one cannot produce product while drunk or high, at least not quality product.  Those that flirt with the myth that drugs or alcohol enhance creativity soon find that it hampers rather than helps and they don't bother with such wasting of their time. 
Most artists, like most other people, pay their bills on time, keep their appointments, meet their deadlines, keep their promises, treat others kindly, do not lie, cheat or steal from others, say please and thank you, struggle with insecurities but keep on going, keep on the right side of the law, maintain good interpersonal relationships with family and friends, practice good personal grooming, eat healthy food, drive responsibly, follow the news and keep informed of current events, vote, maybe keep a dog or a cat, and don't call their mothers often enough. 
Successful artists are NOT screwed up and certainly do not need to be to make good art.  Artists find ideas and inspiration in beautiful nature and healthy relationships and current events and in the other arts such as literature or music.  There are ample sources of ideas and inspiration and artists do not need angst or personal tragedy to find them.  Artists are regular responsible sane kind people, just like most of the rest of the population. 
Some artists are immature and use the myth of the irresponsible screwed up artist to continue to be irresponsible and screwed up.  Just like some young people use the excuse of youth to do irresponsible immature things.  But it need not be so, they can mature up and live a normal regular responsible life.   Such irresponsibility does not enhance their art and probably is an obstacle to their success as an artist, like it would be in any job or career. 
Some artists struggle with mental illness, just like some truck drivers and some retail managers and some farmers and some dentists, but it hampers their success, just like in all other jobs or careers.  It does not help them be more creative, nor more productive.  It is an obstacle they must overcome to be an artist, just like it would be to keeping any job or maintaining any successful relationship.   It doesn’t make their art any better and sometimes just makes it creepy. 
Let's stop glorifying the screwed up artists of history.  In many of those cases, the magnitude of their problems is exaggerated, for they may have had periods of mental illness or instability but also periods of normalcy.  At any rate, the number of artists who have been making a living or part of a living as artists while leading regular normal lives is vastly greater than the number of the few who were mentally ill or unstable. The few artists that were screwed up were the exception, certainly not the rule. They represent a tiny part of the entire larger pool art healthy well balanced artists.  Another aspect to consider is that in their day, they did not have access to psychiatry. They had no choice but to suffer and struggle with their mental illness.  The same is NOT true today:  Medical help is available.  An artist or nurse or plumber today who has issues with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia has access to meds and medical care that were not available then, and so has a responsibility to others in his or her life to utilize those benefits to minimize their personal trauma.  To fail to do so is irresponsible.  To use art to justify the neglect of a mental illness is just part of the mental illness and no more essential to being an artist than it is to being a landscaper or bricklayer.  Medical help is there for artists and everyone else and all have a responsibility to manage their mental illness. 
Artists are just people, no more messed up than the rest, and they certainly don't NEED any messed-up-ness to BE good artists.  And anyone who claims otherwise is looking for excuses for bad behavior, immaturity, or irresponsibility.  Artists are responsible, hard working, regular people who choose to make things of aesthetic quality, and they deserve respect for managing regular lives while making beautiful things, rather than the disrespect of a stereotype.

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