Self-destruction is not artistic

By Copy Chief

“Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me?” is a line from the song “Gasoline,” by Halsey, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter idolized by many Columbia students and young artists throughout the country. 

The notion that artists must put their work ahead of their own well-being to be successful is not new. As early as elementary school, children hear stories about Vincent van Gogh, who cut off his own ear while making the art now displayed in museums worldwide.

Singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain died famously in 1994 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and this act is romanticized by musicians and music lovers alike almost as much as his art is admired. 

The same sensibility permeates a series of self-portraits by visual artist Bryan Lewis Saunders. The art went viral in 2008, depicting his varying levels of creativity under the influence of multiple drugs, which ultimately resulted in brain damage.

Researchers have long sought a link between creativity and mental illness or addiction to explain why creatives tend to lead self-destructive lives . The results are equivocal, but it seems obvious that untreated mental illness and addiction have cut short many a brilliant artistic career.

Drug overdoses and suicidal acts have taken the lives of countless talented and beloved artists, such as singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, poet Sylvia Plath, actor and singer Cory Monteith, actress Marilyn Monroe and writer Ernest Hemingway. 

While it is a common perception that one has to put self-care in the backseat to reach success, doing so is an insult to the creative process. There are multiple exceptions to the rule that all artists must self-destruct. Painter Georgia O’Keefe became a successful artist while abstaining from drugs and overcame her depression, creating art until she died at 98 of natural causes. 

Singer-songwriter Lorde openly rejects party culture in her music and personal life and maintains tremendous critical and commercial success.

Addiction and substance abuse are not essential to creativity. Comedy writer David Sedaris said in a May 27, 2008, Time Out Chicago article that he quit drinking and doing drugs and has still produced best-selling novels that push the boundaries of modern prose.

Multitalented artist Lady Gaga admitted to regretting her romanticization of cocaine use as “sexy” in a 2012 interview with Amanda de Cadenet, as it hindered her well-being and her career.

Time and time again, we see celebrities and artists speak out against prior drug usage or attend rehab programs, often to complete a project they’re committed to, like John Stamos in July 2015, who went to rehab to get over alcohol and prescription drug abuse in order to finish filming “Fuller House” for Netflix.

Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba are just a few public figures who have created successful businesses promoting healthy lifestyles. As this trend gains traction, we hope it will continue and influence the lives of artists of future generations. This will change the way we connect art and self-destruction.