We want our artists to be crazy

Last week I read an interview with Thomas Ligotti (who, in case you don’t know, if a very interesting, uncompromising and very strange writer of psychological horror fiction. I’d read about Ligotti before, but in the course of reading this interview I realized a very high percentage of the creative people I’ve admired are somewhere between “troubled” and “completely nuts.”

Just look at who else I’ve written about in this short-lived blog… Hemingway (suicidal alcoholic), Fitzgerald (depressive alcoholic), Philip K. Dick (who, let’s just say, has a five paragraph section under the heading “mental health” in his Wikipedia entry), and now Ligotti. For a catalog of Ligotti’s psychological troubles I’ll leave you to read the above-linked article, if you’re interested.

Add to that list some of my other favorite creative inspirations, for example painters –Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo — and a pattern begins to emerge. One begins to wonder, do individuals of the sensitive nature who might excel at creation just naturally have a hard time in life due to that sensitivity? Or is it that unbalanced, obsessive people have more time or energy to focus upon their creative work, and are thus more likely to be productive and to succeed? Or is there something in the inward searching all creative artists must undertake that is somehow troubling or corrosive to one’s happiness in the long term?

I really don’t know the answer to this. It does seem, though, that a quick rundown of my list of favorite poets, artists, composers and so on, yields a rate of incidence of psychological problems greater than what’s seen in the general population.

2 thoughts on “We want our artists to be crazy

  1. Benjamin Steele

    I’m also attracted to disturbed writers. To your list, I’d add William S. Burroughs.

    I’d guess there are many factors. Research shows that people with thin boundaries are more sensitive and have more active imaginations. Think boundary types have lots of psychological issues such as nightmares. Some people are born with thin boundaries, but there are also factors that can cause others to develop thin boundaries. Psychedelics have cause a thinning of boundaries, and if I remember correctly thin boundary types are more likely to experiment with drugs.

    There is also insightful research about Introversion/Extraversion. Introverts are more sensitive to social situations, and this is why many Introverted artists can be such great observers of human behavior. However, extreme Introversion can be incapacitating. Also, extensive contemplation probably increases this kind of sensitivity.

  2. griffinwords

    Thanks for the comment, Benjamin. I’d agree that Burroughs is a good example. He suggests another angle on this I hadn’t considered before — in some cases, the crazy, edgy quality is a big part of the artist’s appeal, or at least their aesthetic credibility. Burroughs, and Bukowski, even Hunter S. Thompson — guys like this trade on their edgy, kooky, capable-of-anything reputation, at least in part. Same goes for filmmakers such as David Cronenberg and David Lynch.

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