Tortured writer solution: keep making art

The ‘tortured artist’ image has been countered time and time again, like in these articles by BrainPickings and Collective Inkwell, though in my research (aka. four-minute-Google-search) I also found backers of the stereotype, like here by Huffington Post and here by Mental_Floss.

The idea goes that good art comes from suffering and pain; a chore that must be endured by the artist (who apparently has no say in the matter). The Huffington article goes so far as to say: Why should we invest in a work of art that was created without conflict, or struggle, or pain? Where is the challenge?

-There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.-

I painted a lot in high school, and intended to go on to study visual arts at tertiary level. I didn’t write creatively, but I eventually learned how to write a decent essay, and I often kept a personal journal. For both painting and writing, art-making was therapeutic and allowed me to process my thoughts and experiences. I understood the tortured artist idea to mean someone who feels suffering and uses art to process that.

My first trials in writing backed this up.

I had just been diagnosed with Depression & Anxiety, and there were a bunch of other struggles to boot. But I was enduring through this first draft despite the pain; feeding the myth.

In retrospect, it wasn’t the writing that was painful, but the process of learning how to write. I’d finished highschool, done a bachelors at university, worked for a couple of years… and now I was doing something completely new. Learning curves are named thus for a reason.

I’m now working on the draft of my fifth story, and by the fourth book I was thoroughly enjoying the process of writing. I was, in fact, having fun – none of this tortured artist rubbish for me!

Actually, book two was also enjoyable, but book three I struggled with, and for this writer it wasn’t the writing, but the gaps in between. I’ve found that if I have too long a gap between creative production, I let the Voice of Doubt sneak in, and this makes writing (or painting) a struggle: while I’m trying to write my story, I’m constantly having this voice tell me to quit while I’m behind.

But while I’m in the story, in the painting, blissfully deaf to the voices, painting and writing are pleasurable activities; they allow to me to process, to explore, and to communicate.

The solution, of course, is to keep making art 🙂

-Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.-

2 Responses to “Tortured writer solution: keep making art

  • Another great post. I wouldn’t use the word “torture” to describe my struggles when I work, but it is often a struggle for me. As you say, perhaps, not the writing, but all sorts of other inner elements at play. I do have a notion that art is born out of such struggles, wrestling with contradictory ideas, reconciling pressures from within and without, self-doubt. However, I recognise it is a romanticised notion and that art can certainly come out of a place of play and joy and confidence.

    • Z.R. Southcombe
      2 years ago

      Thanks Antony. That’s essentially what story – and art – is about, right? Struggles, contradictions, and ultimately a reconciliation or resolution… makes sense that art can come from that place. Joy’s a good place too though 🙂

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