Artists and Depression

Even successful people can be suffering privately.  Those Born to be Artists tend to explore the world through an empathic lens.  Bruce Springsteen’s characters and montages are only possible, because as a writer he was able to slip on the coat, or walk in the shoes of other (usually struggling) people.

Bruce's autobiography reveals his mental health struggles.

Bruce’s autobiography reveals his mental health struggles.

While everyone is potentially susceptible to depression, the artistic temperament is often accepted as having a high incidence:  Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway.

The Next Day, by John Porcellino, Paul Peterson, and Jason Gilmore.  The Next Day is a graphic novella based on extensive interviews conducted with four suicide attempt survivors.

The Next Day, by John Porcellino, Paul Peterson, and Jason Gilmore. The Next Day is a graphic novella based on extensive interviews conducted with four suicide attempt survivors.

The two main “kinds” of depression I suffered were the negative self-defeating downward-spiral tape-loop thinking, and/or the absence of all normal feeling – a kind of flatness of a life that was pointless.  My depression is essentially in remission, and I am able to keep it at bay.  Cognitive therapies were key.

The most memorable films, songs, and stories are the tragedies.  The opening line of Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) is “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”   Rhett leaving Scarlett is a far better ending than happy ever after.  Death, economic depression, disease, disaster, global threat, post apocalyptic societal breakdown… now that’s entertainment.

Truth or myth?  Artistic catharsis or self fulfilling prophecy?

Truth or myth? Artistic catharsis or self fulfilling prophecy?

So if you are an artist, channeling the frustration into your art literally makes the best of a bad situation. And the audience needs the art to channel their own anger and frustration over their own daily endured injustices.

Looking up Tragically Hip lyrics, internet comments varied from “it was about a boyfriend and a girlfriend breaking up” to “it was about the Siege of Leningrad”.  It didn’t matter that the interpretations suggested vastly different meanings, it matters that the art was worth pondering at all.

virginia-woolf

Bruce Springsteen is a millionaire because of his art.  But knowing what I do of his life story, it seems he would still be playing and singing in bars and dives if the whole fame thing hadn’t worked out.  The best thing an artist can do is produce a body of work.  The best thing a depressed artist can do is keep producing, keep expressing, keep seeing and feeling and translating it out into the real world.  Art can defeat the isolation.

A painter paints.  A writer writes.

A painter paints. A writer writes.

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