I asked a few artist friends about this issue and radio personality Sesame said that: ‘they believe that because of their job, they are entitled to things people sweat for. When we feel entitled, we stop working.” This lead me to wonder whether there is an artistry to insanity and that it is an excuse for some. Hip hop artist Apollo Diablo said: artists are escapists and sometime get lost in our creative spaces.’ So are we overwhelmed by our own dreams and passions that we are driven mentally hay-wire?
Most artists seem to build an outsider persona, removing themselves from the general public because due to their mental ‘difference’ they begin to perceive the world in a more varying way then your ‘sane’ individual. One can say that it allows the artist to seek inspiration, either resonating with or creating more isolation from the public.
In the same light as Apollo’s statement, artists are more emotionally in-tune with their lives, and surroundings allowing them to seek ways of expression that would satisfy them. It can be a gift and a curse, as they tend to be more sensitive and vulnerable. Common mental illnesses that I have experienced amongst artists I know, whether they are singers, painters or poets are bi-polar disorder or depression. It becomes difficult to control these emotions or filter them because the mind becomes overwhelmed. Sometimes that is enough to provide the inspiration, or that visual content that the artist would like to share with their reader.
Some artists have fought and continue to fight serious bouts of depression, and the stronger cases often lead to them committing suicide because ‘the voices’ become too much. As seen throughout history, such as poet and author Susan Plath who suffered from weight loss, insomnia due to extreme depression and ended her life.
Many artists if one does their research from the times of Michealangelo (whom given his times was not keen on hygiene) and Vincent van Gogh, who has been deemed the poster child of ‘crazy artists’.
Radio personality Dollar Mac says that drugs and alcohol contribute to the levels of insanity of some artists and I agree. From film makers to music composers, there is insanity or a level a bit above the sane mind that artists mental capacity resides in. Think of Brenda Fassie or Lebo Mathosa, were they free spirits or haunted by spirits that allowed them to become great entertainers but fragile souls that depart to early from the Earth.
Music would not be the same without its contributing crazy artists. These names include: Mozart, Schubert, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven. Modern musicians like Micheal Jackson, James Taylor, Whitney Houston or Marvin Gaye have been relatively public about battling mental illness and drug addiction. What factors could have contributed to their situations: upbringing, pressure of the public life and not have privacy, physical exhaustion or just plain boredom? Where the mind feels that it does not want to think anymore?
Others say that insanity consoles the artist, and it becomes a trusted companion as everyone else has an agenda and it is a defense mechanism. Ideas such as these suggest that there is an artistry to being insane. That the ‘insane’ are very much aware or the flipside – that everyone else is insane and the artists are of sound mind.
Some worry, however, that insanity is a requirement of great art – take myself, for instance, and I am not alone in this experience. Pain, pressure, anxiety and anger tend to fuel most content and some of the best poetic and musical compositions that are coming out. There is the common saying that it is not a personal story, but believe me. It is personal. It is a reflection of that artist’s life or a part of. Whether they are the subject or no they are sharing an emotional and physical experience.
Insanity may not translate to great art, all the time, however, interesting analyses have been made of art produced by people who are institutionalized.
I brought this up because a very talented young fine artist stole from our house: he cooked supper cleaned the house and searched, and took our rent money. He was released a few days later, after his father pleaded that he take a psychiatric test. I am baffled because we were vandalized, and nothing was done. He is clearly disturbed and continues to walk around like a sane person in society. He is not taught about how his actions were wrong. His family is aware that he is not okay in the head. And the saddest part of it all is the conflict: if they treat him, medicinally or otherwise, it might take away what drives him to do his art?
But for some reason, I am convinced that some people become good at being insane, and some are at the mercy of the ‘voices in their head’? What do you think?
I think the world would be better if everyone was trained in expressing themselves. But maybe not showing the public their art. For some art can have a negative influence on people and should be carefully selected. Maybe the ones who go about the day and watch t.v, go on the computer, play video games, tweet, and facebook are the ones with a mental disorder. It's all in how you perceive the world around you. But please don't be so quick to judge the good ones as crazy.