I found this comic by the awesome Sarah Andersen a few months ago. I have kept it for this long, knowing I wanted and had to write a post about it. However, since last year has been kind of difficult for me, struggling with my inner, “health” and artistic life, I now feel way more secure about what I want to say using this comic and why. So let me tell you about the Myth of the Depressed Artist.
Recuerda que todos mis artículso también están en español: El Mito del Artista Deprimido.
The Myth of the Depressed Artist has always been around any type of society that has existed in History, althoug it has grown bigger and heavier in the last 2 centuries or so. All the way from the Romanticism towards nowadays, we all know about this Myth that establishes that a depressed artist is better than a happy one. The depressed artist also includes an artist that suffers from alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illnesses as a whole, or even a heartbreak. The Myth of the Depresses Artist says that any artist that has a severe problem within his/her mind and that maintains this state through his/her life (without trying to improve) produces better art than one who is perfectly healthy.
As examples we have Edgar Allan Poe (with a turbulent personal and emotional life), Howard Phillips Lovecraft (with a ton of social traumas), Ernest Hemingway (touching alcoholism), Vincent Van Gogh (dying from a, possibly, self inflicted wound), Francisco de Goya (who died deaf, sick, mad and alone) and I could continue till Infinity and beyond. All of them are widely considered as geniuses around the world. No one questions how much they were suffering, in the same line that no one wants their work without their suffering, implying it would be worse or even just plain bad.
However, as Sarah Andersen beautifully portrays in this piece, the Myth of the Depressed Artist is simply a lie. A filthy lie that is way more harmful than society tends to think. And, although sadness, depression or any other negative connotation can influence a piece of work in a way to have a better outcome than without it, just like any other emotion, being a forever depressed artist is totally incompatible with doing art as a form of life.
Think about the Myth of the Depressed Artist like this: have you ever felt depressed yourself? Maybe because something went horribly wrong in your life, a beloved close one died or lots of little, heavy and negative things one on top of the other put your world upside down. If you have suffered from real depression, this question will be even easier for you to answer. What were you able to do during that difficult time? Hardly anything, right? And whatever you were able to do was pointless, with no intention or feelings from you, wasn’t it? Then, imagine doing something like Art, any kind of Art, which requires passion and lots of emotions, while being depressed. It ain’t gonna happen.
Supporting a harmful behaviour such as the one that generates the Myth of the Depressed Artist is forcing a person to live in a permanent state of depression for the sake of the assumption of others enjoying his/her work. It is forcing a person to look for negative thoughts and a horrible state of mind just for an unrealistic societal impression of how an artist is. And, at the same time, forcing this situation to give society an artistic outcome way worse than what a happy, healthy creator could do, because that is the reality behind this Myth.
What I can take from this situation is that artists don’t matter to society, to people in general. This has built up for centuries and society has normalized that mental illnesses = great artist. And it is not important if the artist is suffering, because “it is his/her job”.
So we have to change this perception of art. Not only because it is totally WRONG, but also, and mainly, because there is no need of an artist suffering from depression or other mental illnesses in order to create. Because that’s bullsh*t. Let’s change what people believe about how artists work and, moreover, why mental illnesses are bad for the people suffering from it and for the society in general. Let artist know the Myth of the Depressed Artist is not real, that all of them should take care of themselves and that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Let artists know that mental health is as important as physical health, and sometimes even more. Let’s speak about this as loud as we can, for the people in the back.
Because of this all, I want to start a series about Art and Mental Health, being this post you are reading right now the very first of them. I am going to talk about those topics society doesn’t want to see and I am going to try and knock down as many walls of shame as I can.
Can you help me doing so? 🙂