The Healthy Artist

It is perceived by most (and seemingly proven time and time again) that most artists are in some way shape or form, insane.  But do they have to be?

Beethoven heard music in his head so strongly that he had to write it down immediately, no matter where he was.  Rumor has it his landlord ripped out the window sashes after his death and sold them at auction because they were covered in his handwritten music.  Van Gogh, of course, cut off his own ear.  Dali saw owls on peoples heads among other things.  The Beatles were infamous weirdos, not to mention the extra levels of weird once Yoko came on the scene.  Syd Barrett, Michael Jackson, the list goes on and on.

This has become such a stereotype over the years that sometimes the more insane a person is, the more they are perceived to be a genius.  Obviously this is not true, but the media loves anyone making a scene. Thusly more and more artists who are not insane behave like crazy people to get the sought after attention.   (Side note, drugs achieve “insta-crazy” very easily. I’m talking to you, Courtney Love, Amy Weinhouse, and Ozzy Osbourne.)

Why are artists insane? Oh, for lots of reasons. Mainly people who are drawn to the arts have a more sensitive personality type.  Imagine The Universe quoting Spinal Tap – There’s a line of people standing there.  All of them are running at a “5”, and then The Universe points at one lucky soul and says “This one goes up to 11.”

These people aren’t just happy – they are ecstatic.  They aren’t just sad, they are in despair.  They are more likely to suffer from depression, addictions, personality disorders.  They typically don’t adjust to change well. They (believe it or not) don’t like having much attention on them.  Most of the time they feel outside of society, the weirdos, the strangers – looking in at everyone else.

So they make stuff. They paint and sculpt and dance and write music and stories and poetry.   And all those feelings that are cranked up to “11” go into whatever it is that they create.

Here’s the cool part: When the “normal” people who are walking around at a “5” all day hear or read or see these things guess what happens? …. they FEEL STUFF.  They feel more than a 5.  And they say wow.  And they want more.

But here’s the question – do you HAVE to be insane to create good art?

As a working artist who finally got her head on straight after 7 years of therapy, my personal answer to that question is no… and yes.

Every artist has their own private and personal relationship with their inner demons.  And while I cannot attest to theirs, here is my experience with mine…

I for one take my artistic skills completely for granted.  It takes very little effort on my part to make or create most stuff (especially music), so I don’t even think about it.  Literally.  I put zero thought into it besides “oh, you know what would sound cool here?”.  I never contemplated whether it was a gift or a curse.  I never wondered where the skills came from.  I never even really thought of it as a “skill” at all – it’s just the way I am.

The three most shocking things my therapist said to me during our time together were:

  1. You know, it’s not necessary for artists to struggle. (WHAT???)
  2. What you do (creating music) is truly important. (psht. whatever.)
  3. Were you aware that the majority of people live their entire lives and the whole time are “Fine”?

That last one blew me right out of the water.  I did not know about the people who lived at a “5”.  I thought everyone was like me, and was wondering why I felt like a weirdo.   That completely changed my perspective on my WHOLE. LIFE.  Suddenly why I felt like a weirdo made sense.

Just to give you an idea of “Life at 11”, here is a small, select list of things that I no longer (or only rarely now) do since therapy:

  • self sabotage my projects
  • purposefully create drama in my relationships to get attention
  • think of myself as a social outcast
  • over dramatize situations
  • stay in unhealthy or toxic relationships with friends, co workers, and romantic partners
  • harshly judge the art I’m creating
  • hate myself
  • act in a self-destructive manner

But how does this affect my art?  Personally, I find that it’s slightly more difficult to create art when you are not feeling at least a little crazy, or off balance.  It makes so much sense why the majority of music is about sadness, anger, losing love, or being *this* close to love and not being able to touch it.  Depression is dark and romantic and SOOO Virginia Woolf – how can you not revel in it?  But long-term it really is no way to live.  I can personally attest to that.

Walking around feeling like you’ll lose your shit at any moment and being borderline suicidal most days also makes it difficult to make art.  And while I did get a lot of songs written while I was bawling, I didn’t get many written on the days when I was curled up in the fetal position chain smoking Parliament Lights.

For me it’s a balance.  I’ve noticed that I’ll go in and out of “writing modes”.  When I’m in a writing mode I notice that I’m more day-dreamy, I’m off kilter a bit, my mood may be more dark than usual, I’m more pensive… and then BAM – new song.  Then everything sort of fades back to normal.

Even after 7 years of Therapy my inner demons are not all gone.  Some of them will never be all the way gone.  It’s more like I have created a healthy working relationship with them.  Most days are good – I still have some bad ones once in a while, but I have the tools now to deal with those bad days with out completely reverting into a screaming mess.

So no, you don’t have to be crazy to work here.  But it helps.   🙂

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