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Happiness and Creativity

Happiness and creativity
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Happiness and Creativity

Recently I have been reading about the life of a few artists (Gauguin, Lautrec, Rothko, Egon Schiele…)and was watching the movie “Pollock” (2000-Ed Harris), “Modigliani” (2004-Mick Davis) .Oh my!…

Happiness and Creativity

This made me think that a good proportion of the artists whose work I admire just had either an addiction, depression, or at least a very difficult life. I know some counterexamples( Degas, Picasso…) but still a good proportion of artists had a troubled life.  Most of them have been commercially successful only after their death.
How is that possible? If I drink 2 glasses of wine my drawing abilities will regress to their kindergarten level, and I can barely drag myself to my studio  if I am too miserable.

How come some artists still manage to be productive in difficult situations, is that a different kind of art? Is making art a sort of urgent therapy they have to make to cope? If I try to have a happy, balanced and creative life, will the art I make be less deep? Should I consider drinking more:-), for the sake of great art ?

I was also wondering, could there be a medical explanation, would a great percentage of these artists be considered today ADD?, I know ADD traits are linked to creativity, and ADD is known statistically to have a greater percentage of co-morbidity (depression, addiction…).I definitely considered the ADD diagnosis for myself since among other things I have been driving a few times with my coffee cup still on the roof of my car, and constantly forgetting my keys outside the door on the lock.


This situation is not unique to visual arts by the way, a few writers came to my mind, in particular Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowsky. I think Bukowsky was alcoholic during all his career and wrote so many books! I had a “Bukowski” reading binge when I was a teenager.
Anyway, even more surprising than the ability to be creative in difficult situation for me is the belief some of those artists have in the significance of their work. Is that delusion that became true or extreme self confidence, foresight… One example of this would be Gauguin: For a while he wasn’t selling anything, had bad critiques at the beginning of his career (Pissaro influence was too visible, he was not an important impressionist…),… but still never doubted his work was important and would be recognized at some point!

One can help thinking about Van Gogh that is said to have sold only one painting when he was alive, and still went on painting so many canvas.

Or Egon Schiele who had one of his teacher Christian Griepenkerl ask him, ” For God’s sake don’t tell anyone that I was your teacher! “.. .

I would be completely crushed! Everybody forgot that teacher name as Egon Schiele work is better known.

I’ll try to remember Egon Schiele teacher whenever I get discouraged, or if I get a bad critique on my art.

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Comments (15)

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  4. This is an interesting discussion on a thoughtful post Sandrine. I think we have heard so many stereotypes about artists’ tortured lives. when I am introduced as an artist the person is interested in that but I feel their mind ticking over towards “but they can’t be! where’s the wild red hair, crazy clothes, daredevil attitude?” It has taken a lot of time to see and accept myself as an artist too, not outrageous enough and because it is an occupation which fights for survival with lots of other roles and outside demands. Now I have retired from paid work it is a different thing from being younger and trying to maintain practice over the years of child-rearing etc. I think some knowledge about an artist’s personality can give us an insight into their work but the work should stand on its own really. The other can be just like a bit of gossip.

  5. When things are not going well in my life, my colors start out clear and turn muddy. The more i fuss with the painting, the worse and muddier it gets, and the worse i feel. later i usually burn those, as when i look at them, the same feelings return that i poured into the painting. my drawings, however, are always exceptional during those phases, so i switch to pencil which helps me work through my troubles.
    Z

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  7. Thanks Leslie !
    Yes, I noticed even the artists I admire, and consider master in their field are either teaching or have a heavy schedule of workshops. It seems to be a minority that can earn an income only from their art. I would be curious to see statistics on this.

    As for writing a book, yes, in my wildest dreams…, but I always feel a little bit intimidated to write in English because French being my first language I’m sure I must have sometimes some funky syntax, or at least a different way of saying things. At least you can’t hear my accent 🙂 but thanks for asking , that was very nice .

  8. I have thought about this a lot! I don’t feel obsessed, depressed, angry, or hostile when I create. I am not worried about ever being famous and competition makes me weak in the knees. I like to share it, create it, play in it and find it more a self challenge to try and create what I see. I am totally intrigued with what the water does with watercolor and I like to play with line. I wonder where some of the neat distortions come from and I enjoy viewing other artists creations. Guess I won’t be famous, but I sure will have had a lot of fun.
    It is truly sad when there are teachers who set a level or pre-supposition on what their students create. Teaching art should be ninety percent inspiration and ten percent technique, I think. If more teachers would keep in mind that encouragement produces we would see a lot more people participating. I am one of those who believes that everyone is an artist. Some choose not to be. Great post, Sandrine!

    1. Thank you Leslie ,
      You are making me think about another post I would like to write about art and competition, which is another question I often think about, or how do we judge art and should we at all?
      I also believe everyone is an artist, or has the potential to be anyway, and that the most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing. But as I am trying to make art professionally and ideally earn some income, I am confronted with juried competitions, limited places in galleries and exhibitions, trying to have visibility for my work…all of which is some kind of competition.
      I completely agree with you on teachers ,luckily so far I have been blessed with very supportive and positive teachers .
      Sandrine

      1. I think you are doing a wonderful job of marketing yourself, Sandrine. You are blogging, have a website and are showing! I know those challenged with supporting themselves through their work have a daunting task and you not only have to be good at what you do, be visible, you also need business skills. I only know one artist that supports herself completely on her art without teaching and even she works part time in a health foods store. One needs to be discovered. I would buy your book if you write one, or have you??????

  9. I’ve thought about this…So many times. I also noticed that I myself crave making art much more when my life isn’t going very well. Maybe it has something to do with emotions (negative in this instance) that push the artist to express them somehow.

    And what about music? How many great musicians had drug problems and, yes, mental issues?

    I wonder…that belief in your art that you are talking about…maybe that is also a side effect of being a little crazy? 😉

    1. Yes, you are right, it is even more obvious with music…
      It seems that in my case I will be way more productive when not struggling in my personal life, otherwise I just feel like staying in my bed and sleep 🙂

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