There’s this image that’s developed over the years of the genius artist – no matter if it be a painter or a writer, any type of artist – that’s depressed, melancholy, in another world. They pay the price for their genius in some way. Van Gogh’s famous battle of mental illness cost him his life. J. K. Rowling’s depression became personified in Dementors in the Harry Potter series. And the list goes on.
As the Wikipedia page says (I know, such a reliable source), “Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between creative occupations and mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.” (Source – you can read all about the sources that support this there.) But does the artist have to suffer in order to make life-changing work? In order to create something so incredible that it speaks to people across the ages, across all separating identities, does the creator have to pay for it?
Phrased that way, I believe the answer is no. Creators do not have to experience incredible loss – of material or immaterial things like identity, relationships, or their sanity – but so often they do. I think it might be rarer for an artist who creates truly life-changing material to be without tragedy than it is for them to have it.
It might be because their life experiences are a wider variety that cause a deeper understanding of this life we live. It might be because they experience lower lows, so the highs are that much sweeter. It might be because they cope with the tragedy through art of some kind. I don’t know, but I can hypothesize.
And that hypothesizing is important to me. Because I’ve experienced well over a decade of pain and all that goes with that, will I be a better writer? Will my writing connect with more people because I can understand the pain that coexists with living a life that seems to be half of everyone else’s? Is that my concession, the thanks-for-playing prize I receive?
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