Friday, October 17, 2008

Tortured Artist: Myth or Reality?

Are you a tortured artist? Am I?

Wikipedia defines a tortured artist as "a stock character and stereotype who is in constant ferment due to frustrations with art and other people. The tortured artist feels alienated and misunderstood due to what they perceive as the ignorance or neglect of others who do not understand them, and the things they feel are important. They sometimes smoke, experience sexual frustration and appear overwhelmed by their own emotions and inner conflicts. The tortured artist is often mocked in popular culture for being attention seeking, narcissistic and unable or unwilling to make plans or just averse to happiness and fun. Often demonstrating self-destructive behaviors."

The wiki definition seems a bit humorous but perhaps it is actually accurate. So many of the artists that I know feel misunderstood; they are always comparing themselves to others, always wanting more attention and adoration and when they do not get these things to their satisfaction they rebel or shut down. Being an artist is such a weird job. It is so easy to give up and simmer in our own brooding stew of dissatisfaction.

What if I told you I think it is okay that you are "tortured?" What if it is okay to be a "starving artist?" So many books for artists these days make it seem like you should balk at these old antiquated ideas. They say today's artist can have your cake and eat it too. They say the starving artist is an old out-dated myth or paradigm. They say there is no room for "tortured" because you are too busy living the dream.

While this can be very encouraging, I also think it can put unrealistic pressure and expectations on one's self and art career.

Being an artist is a hard job. It is a job that does not always pay well and is erratic and unpredictable. Being an artist can be a very insular position, full of judgment and qualifiers for yourself and the work you produce. Over time I have decided that being an artist is not a choice. I think you are birthed into this position and hopefully learn to rectify and embrace it over a life time.

It is not all bad of course, but some days being an artist can seem like a form a torture. I know you come here for inspiration and hope, but I also think it my responsibility to be honest. This position has plenty of hardships and one can find themselves riddled with self doubt.

However, I am forever and always will be an artist. I will question, I will doubt and I will envy, but I will also feel great pride in the work I produce and I will always help other artists find this path, and attempt to make it as comfortable as I can for myself and those that follow. This position, this career, has many thankless tasks, and we will be at times misunderstood by ourselves and others.We will also feel unparalleled heights and be a part of unprecedented beauty and awe, that we can manufacture all on our own. I feel that is why we put up with the occasional torture, because the heights that we achieve can not be matched. The mythologies that we create are sacred and unique.

So, if you are feeling tortured, frustrated and misunderstood, don't feel the need to put a happy face on it right away and please know you are not alone. Keep fighting, keep trying, and give yourself a break. The lows can be dark, cold, and lonely but the highs are pure light and love and all of your own creation.

This post is dedicated to all the artists struggling on this path and questioning this way of living.There is something that you felt once, that was strong enough to sustain you and keep you here. Hold on to that and keep fighting and you will find your way back eventually. This will never be an easy path but it is worth it. Onwards and Upwards...


  1. thanks for that Megan... is is good to hear the good honest truth sometimes.

    I have people saying "you're lucky you are artistic" I am not sure about being lucky... some days I feel cursed and true some days I feel very blessed.

    And that is what makes it hard being us.

  2. Trusting your intuition and taking the highs with the lows - a recipe for success :)
    Baring the truth really matters. We are too quick to tell people of the good side of being an artist....
    Brave Megan tells it like it is! :)

  3. Bravo! Bravo, Grazie Mille, compadrionnetta! Great blog, great blog, really a joy to read.

    As uou know, I'm 23 (24 on the 22nd), and I'm just beginning to realize that the sense of alienation and misunderstanding that occurs on a daily basis due to whatever intrinsically difficult aspect of our lives as artists is indeed not something that I can grow out of (quite the contrary). I used to think that getting a bit older, more 'down to earth', achieving maturity would bring some relief: nope. Easily misconstrued as a form of teenage angst, rebellion, insular tendencies, the idiosyncrasies of said 'tortured artist' are, I agree, birthed and unavoidable (at least).

    Ah, the part I love most about your blog today, such an honest moment, when you talk about the highs an artist can get simply on their own creation. Needless to say, even when not producing work, that same sense of wonderment, blissful realization, and thirst permeates our everyday repertoire; life is such a magnificent backdrop for a more interesting and bountiful imagination. Ironically, I seldom have the opportunetsy to talk about the highs. Somehow, I have long since taken it for granted; laugh laugh, an unsaid constant, one of the perks/peaks, and choose to dwell in the disasters (aka my paintings). So it is very nice to see these words so thoughtfully and genuinely written, a reminder, we need.

    Thanks for the words, bless you, and to the painter paintings that call your name! Oooh, looking forward to Etsy, next stop!


  4. thanks Megan. Your words are soothing and your work is increasingly beautiful. Are we seeing a less subdued, more aggressive red/red-Orange? Am I imagining things? Are all of these colors becoming more saturated? It would only be fitting if it were so since you seem to be coming to terms, or at least insightful enough to be encouraging others to embrace their own colors, be they merry or melancholy.
    This blog post prompts me to ask if you've read "Touched with Fire"
    by Kay Redfield Jamison.
    best wishes,

  5. This city is an ogre squatting by the river
    (It gives life but it takes it away, my youth)
    Onwards and upwards indeed, and with it (or for it) your work is forever more beautiful and rich.
    (the only source of currency worth being rich in?)

  6. Have I told you lately that I love you?! When I saw the post title in my feed, something cynical in me expected to find a lot of reasons why the idea of a "tortured artist" is a myth. The wiki is pretty funny, and stereotypical, I wonder if an artist wrote it... but there are nuggets of truth there.

    Some great work comes from artists during difficult times in their lives, maybe because that's when their true nature is most vulnerable, and output may reveal more of the heart.

    "What comes from the heart reaches the heart." << A favorite quote I've attributed to Mavis Staples; I wrote it down after hearing an interview with her on NPR a while back. Then I went back and found the interview, just now - and she actually said it was a line she got from her father :)

  7. The link to the interview :)

  8. Hey Megan!

    Ok I have been thinking about this blog post for a few days now.

    Yes. Being an artist is not an easy job. Every time I talk to my family about my work they kind of laugh it off like it's something that I just do for fun. Like a hobby. But sometimes it's not fun. It's not easy.

    There is no guaranteed anything! No steady paycheck, no health care plan, no 401K or stock options.

    And I do a lot more than sit around painting pretty pictures all day...

    But you are right. This is what you were meant to do, and this is what I was meant to do 401K or not. I need to make things, and I need to be surrounded by other people who make things. It's then I am find that I am most happy.

    And that is what is THE most important. :)

    Great post!

  9. great post megan

    i hear this now and then

    "you know being an artist is a hard profession"

    my reply is art is a labor of love

  10. Hey Everyone.

    Thanks for reading and thanks very much for all your comments and even a reading suggestion(Depper- I now have the book in my possession-thanks)

    I am glad that many of you could relate to the post. I know we are supposed to present our best/professional selves and yes being an artist is a labor of love, but I also want to make sure that we do not feel less than or even worse, if when at times we do not feel that spunky? about our profession/calling.
    I am not knocking it, I know I am lucky to do what I do, but with freedom from the daily grind comes a new grind all of its own. Thanks again everyone, and with that I am off to the studio without a clue what will happen but with a team of ghosts and readers behind me..