The Tortured Artist

Let’s play a game. I’m going to say a few names, and see how many of them you know. Ready? Okay: Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe, Frida Kahlo, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. I’m going to make the bold assumption that you recognize most of these names. But what do they all have in common? They all represent the “tortured artist” ideal. For centuries, people have been romanticizing these people not only for the art they created but largely for the lives they lead. Today, I am demanding the world to stop this. The figures stated above are a few of many forced under the ideal of a “tortured artist.” Some of them may have even faded into obscurity if it wasn’t for the direction and shift in trajectory that their lives took. The world loves these artists for being “tormented souls,” but the truth is, they were all mentally ill. I have genuinely heard people say that it’s a good thing these people didn’t get help because otherwise, we wouldn’t have the art they created today. I find this not only grossly selfish but also incredibly disturbing. Mental illness should not be romanticized, period. In 2017, it was estimated that around 13% of the world’s population suffers from mental illness. That is 970 million people. Imagine if people believed that if you got the flu, you shouldn’t seek medical attention because your suffering made your art better. That would never happen, and this shouldn’t be happening either. Let’s say, for example, Edgar Allan Poe received help for his alcoholism and other potential problems. We would not only have his work prior to his untimely death, but we would very likely have hundreds if not thousands more poems and stories conceived from his brilliant mind. Mental illness is not something to be made into some beautiful struggle. It is scary and unfortunately all too powerful and overwhelming—and it should not be taken lightly. Talking from personal experience, if you need help, get help. You are not alone, what you are going through is not abnormal, but it isn’t something to ignore either. Everyone deserves to live a happy and fulfilling life, and a person’s suffering should not be what defines them. Do not take away from this that you can’t enjoy their art, because you can. They were all very talented people, but they deserve to be remembered for their work, not their struggles.

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