It’s not difficult to find tragic narratives surrounding mental health when we look back at the greatest artists across history- Elliott Smith, Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh- even more so in present day; Korean halluy star Kim Jonghyun, crowd puller DJ Avincii, greatest comedian we all grew up loving Robin Williams, ranked as one of the most influential women Kate Spade, rocker Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, just to name-sadly- a few. Being a troubled creative genius has become a haughty cliché that today, not many willingly admit to being stressed or depressed by their creative field.
If your one of the lucky few to have your passion turned career-and a successful one at that- and yet constantly feeling discomfort having the job you love, it’s this feeling of ingratitude that makes up just one of the many reasons people in the creative industries feel awkward talking about mental health issues. This comes out loud and clear in most suicide letters creatives leave behind; including the pressure of always staying at the top, relevant and never forgotten against competition, especially when fresh new creatives in their field emerge.
It’s easier to find creatives who struggle with mental illness than it is to find those who don’t. Some of the most iconic musicians, artists, and writers have talked openly about the link between sadness and heightened personal expression, and yet, they still follow this creative path regardless, knowing it’s a higher calling.
Creatives believe that they exist to benefit the world by dissecting their own reality and turning it into something relatable, tangible and beautiful. They want to invoke emotion from people and their craft is the method to accomplish this formidable task. No matter how much they suffer, the need to create cannot be kept inside them, and sadly many self-destruct in the process.
I call it giving, feeding the hyenas’ insatiable demands until there is nothing left to give, and nothing left to keep for themselves. Being an empty shell is no different from being dead.
It must not be easy being tormented by the knowledge that their inquisitive minds and soft hearts are the key to their genius. It may feel unfair that their insightful and empathetic nature is what propels both their creativity, and at times, destruction. They see and feel things differently. Their inner world is complex, multi-dimensional, and isolating at times—and the only way to make sense of it is for them to create.
It’s also true that many turn to their creativity to help them deal with their difficult life experiences. And while it has art times saved them, provided them with the haven they so desperately needed, internalizing that they must be damaged to be creative is dangerous to their well-being and even their creative process.
Although the ability to empathize and feel deeper may at times come with the side effect of their highs matching their lows, this doesn’t mean they’re doomed to self-destruct or that their creative outlets need to be fueled by bouts of insanity.
According to Rinpoche in his book True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, “Dharma art refers to art that springs from a certain creative state of mind on the part of the artist that could be called the meditative state. It is an attitude of directness and unself-consciousness in one’s creative work. We give up aggression, both toward ourselves…and toward others. Genuine Art—dharma art—is simply the activity of nonaggression.”
To create is to receive. There is no ego involved. When creatives open to receiving the art that is trying to express itself through them, relying on drugs, depression, or sadness to fuel their genius is no longer necessary and in the long run actually hinders their creative process. Clarity and self-confidence should come from trusting that they are being trusted by a force greater than themselves to bring their own unique expression into existence.
Creatives need to take better care on themselves and believe that what they are called to do creatively doesn’t have to go hand on hand with their demise. If they can trust the creative urge and expression inside them is bigger than them and they are simple receivers of what wishes to come forth from them, their ego is left out of the equation. It’s their job to listen, let is take shape and give grace to themselves in the process. They don’t have to strip themselves to the bone to live a full, grounded, creative life.
Their gift shouldn’t cause their destruction but it should serve as the same gift it does to their audience-their fans.