Please, do not suffer for your art…
I recently found an old spiral notebook from 2005 that I titled “Angry Poetry” on the bright yellow cover. After going through it, I ended up posting three of the writings on some of my social media accounts. My poetry has always been amateurish at best; always in rhyme and always written when life wasn’t at its sparkliest.
After another tragic death in the music industry this week, I read an article talking about artists who avoid treatment for their depression or other mental concerns because they use the pain to create their art.
The article talked about how some artists chose to move forward, change their path, noting examples such as Adele, who came out and said she would no longer rely on depression to write music; Mary J. Blige saying she would write from happiness going forward. The writer’s point was that fans should support artists in this (supposedly both women had fans who didn’t like the idea of their music changing tone, no matter how their lives benefited from the change).
We know the laundry list of writers who suffered from various forms of depression / mental illness: Woolf, Hemmingway, Plath, Tolstoy, Wallace – I could go on for pages. So many of them lived during a time when the nuances of depression and mental illness had yet to even be understood fully. Mind over matter was often touted as a means of recovery; chemical imbalance as a culprit not even on the horizon.
I’m the first to admit that I like films with endings that are either on the vague or even melancholy side; books that leave me wondering if the world the character so desperately wants to conquer is even worthy of those attempts. When I write, I tend to discover characters who wander through their lives either wondering what if, or making decisions that usually delay the success or happiness they deserve.
It’s understandable to want to create something out of the pain, get some release by putting down words or music or art that helps you move through the agony. That’s what I was doing with my poetry – screaming onto the page. But I’m such a fan of some of these legends we’ve lost, and I would give up the art they provide without question if they needed to step away to become healthy.
To never hear Chester Bennington sing a new song or read his new lyrics because he stepped away from music would be disappointing, but for these things to be the result of the anguish finally became too much for him to wake up to another day is heartbreaking. We’ve lost a person, not just a musician, and it’s about time that we should all take a step back and grasp that you don’t have to suffer for your art.
I had always joked that I only wrote when I was sad or depressed (not clinically, just plain old vanilla, first-world depression that always rights itself). That isn’t something I want to say anymore. I am introspective in regard to the world around me; I always will be. But I have a project I’ve recently started that goes completely in the opposite direction – happy endings are pretty much ensured. If it works out, I’ll be one more person who learns to create out of joy instead of focusing solely society’s ills that I cannot alone heal.