You Have to Be Miserable to Create Masterpieces (and 3 More Lies That Need to Die)

BrokenbottlesWriters and artists get a bad rap. We endure a mythos of misery. Even more distressing than other people perpetuating these stories, is that some artists have swallowed the lies whole, and regurgitate them as the self-flagellating gospel of creative suffering and dysfunction. It’s time for these old stereotypes to be laid to rest. They’re tired.

Kill Them Dead: A Righteous Massacre of Bohemian Falsehoods

“Contrary to the old adage that you’ve got to feel deeply tortured to create, my best work is done when I’m not trying to sweat out misery, but am instead using what makes me happy as a reflective surface.” – Leandra Medine

  1. Creativity and misery belong together – True depression is no joke. It deserves compassion and adequate treatment options, not glorification. Yes, a lot of very talented people have suffered greatly from clinical depression and other mental health issues;  however, correlation does not imply causation. There are a lot of happy people out there, creating incredible works of art. You don’t have to suffer in the name of creativity.
  2. Only starving artists are really artists – If you hang out in creative circles, you’re familiar with this phenomena. These are the people who consider any artist that has managed to make enough money to not have to live on Ramen to be a sell out. Not surprisingly, most of them didn’t grow up poor, and some of them have parents who are still paying their rent. It’s easy to uphold poverty as a glamorous ideal when it’s only pretend poverty. Those of us who have experienced real poverty that wasn’t a choice? We kind of hate you. Listen, if we’re working our asses off for our art, we deserve to be able to eat three times a day. We deserve to not have to sleep in our cars outside the poetry slam. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we even deserve to make enough money to support a family and pay our bills on time. That’s not selling out, it’s self worth.
  3. You’ve got to fuel it with addiction – Nah. It just makes you difficult to be around and hurts everyone you love. Worse than that, it hurts you. Look, Bukowski couldn’t write because of the booze. He was so talented that he was able to write in spite of the booze. Same with Hemingway and all the rest. Imagine what they would have been capable of doing sober. Romanticizing addiction will eventually bite you in the ass. Have you ever been to a concert where the musicians were either so drunk or high that they screwed up the performance? I have. More than once. No one thought it was brilliant. The crowds were pissed.
  4. You’re not being discovered because you’re so brilliant that nobody understands you – Have you ever attended an artist’s gallery opening or a poetry reading and felt obtuse, because you just didn’t get it? Did you listen to people talking about the piece’s amazing depth and wondered if you were an unsophisticated idiot?  Please. Sometimes things are difficult to understand because they’re so vast, but usually it’s just because they’re nonsense.True brilliance can distill nearly anything into a form that most people can understand, and this results in something astonishingly beautiful in its simplicity. If absolutely no one is understanding what you’re getting at, it’s incredibly arrogant and pretentious to assume that it’s everyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I never took the vow of self-destruction and woe when I began my creative journey. There is too much joy and beauty in this world to accept that this is the pound of flesh to be sacrificed for the privilege.

By all means, give all of yourself to your art. Let your emotions run the gamut in your pieces, as they do in real life. Just remember not to get so mired in expressing your rage or sorrow that you forget to return to your joie de vivre. Your art should be your lifeblood, not the thing that kills you.


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