Christianity, for the Creatives

The Tortured Artist Mythology: Identity Crisis

Hello, my name is Amy, and I’m a tortured artist.

Or am I?

There’s a problem with the “tortured artist” cliché in popular culture. It’s everywhere. It creates this community of “I’m crazy, but I’m not the only one.” Which is nice. But it’s also an indisputable excuse to continue on with unhealthy habits and relationships. Sometimes it’s hard to determine what parts of me are my artistic quirks, what parts of me are my personality irrelevant to creativity, and what parts of me are character flaws I need to battle. And the “tortured artist” can mesh all of those into one clump and escalate the necessity for madness.

Nowadays, this need to be weird, to own up to quirks or faults, to accept them because I was “born this way” or have self esteem or am genuine (all important concepts) seems to have created this competition to be crazier, louder, even bitchier, with no accountability or ownership of legitimate need for growth and change. Either it’s all accepted as a part of the personality, or it’s all blamed on past sufferings.

In Ted Dekker’s book “Outlaw,” the angel Shaka says, “The insane secretly crave suffering. It gives them an identity, however absurd.” And it seems like that’s the idea of the tortured artist, that my problems are my identity. But that’s not truth. I am not my sin, my flesh, my past, or even my quirks.

Oh, I’m a little mad. But I don’t want to succumb to what I should not. I want to learn and grow and not be held captive to the artistic stereotype. An easy one for me to bring up, because I  am already so not this way, is punctuality and reliability (or lack thereof.) The stereotype of creatives is that they’ll show up when they show up, have no regard for others’ time, and are not reliable for their commitments. And it drives me crazy!!!! Because I’m not naturally that way. But other problems are more difficult for me to bring up, specifically because I am prone to those quirks – or even faults.

On the flip side, I think there is some truth to the idea of the tortured artist. Artists in general possess (or are possessed by) quirks, vices, elusive behaviors, simultaneously inflated and self-destructive egos, and temperamental tendencies. To name a few.

It’s a paradox, difficult to grasp both sides at once. In a Huffington Post article on the legitimacy of the tortured artist idea, Christopher Zara says, “In speaking publicly about tortured artists, I’ve been accused of suggesting that drug addicts are better off high and the mentally ill should not seek help, if only because such impediments, by my estimation, help them produce better art….So why, then, are so many artists still turned off by the tortured-artist concept? For some, I suspect, it simply hits too close to home. Consider the wedge it creates between two fundamental desires: the desire to be happy versus the desire to produce great art. The stereotype of the tortured artist as a long-suffering creative genius suggests that those two states are mutually exclusive — and that’s an unsettling thought for anyone who practices a creative craft.”

And this is the dilemma I have now. Who am I really, and what is the imposter inside of me to let go of?

What About You?

Any other creatives have this feeling? What do you think of the Tortured Artist? To what extent is it actuality and to what extent do we perpetuate the needless cycle?

Just for fun:

Wiki-How’s “How to Act Like a Tortured Artist” – for anyone still learning 🙂

This is part 1 of the Tortured Artist Series: you can also check out Difficult to Love and A Christian Artist’s Dilemma.

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5 thoughts on “The Tortured Artist Mythology: Identity Crisis”

  1. It talks about the life of a starving artist and how to free oneself from it. I am interested to learn more! I am curious if you know of any difference(s) between a tortured artist and a starving artist?

    1. I think, as far as I’ve understood it, starving artist is about the financial stress of living day-to-day with no stable income. And then leads into from that emotional stress and other such symptoms. Whereas I think tortured artist is about the depression, addictions, antisocial, psychotic, etc. behavior that an artist is predisposed to (stereotypically or statistically speaking, not necessarily a rule) having that then is expressed thru artistic means. Like artist -> problems = starving artist. Whereas problems ->artist = tortured artist. From my idea of that anyhow when I hear those terms. How does he refer to a starving artist though? What’s his definition, and what does he talk about for freeing yourself from it?

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