The concept of the artist as an exemplary sufferer, and one whose best art comes from a place of pain, is an idea that can cultivate many negative consequences on how one chooses to live a creative lifestyle. The culture surrounding the arts often includes partying, drinking, and using drugs as both a social stimulant and as a creative one. However, always relying on such substances to be social and creative can negatively affect both the artist and their art.
Those who chose to pursue a career in the arts are often met with a familiar fear-based reaction from their family and friends. This reaction stems from the stereotype creative people have for being mentally unstable, leading unhealthy lifestyles, and the concept of the starving artist. The relationship between creative people, substances, and sobriety is a complex one. Many of the greatest artists in history have been addicts, and many have also died due to untreated mental illnesses and substance abuse. In fact, a sober artist may seem like an oxymoron. Over time, we have grown to accept that creativity and suffering are inextricably linked and that artistry and anguish go hand in hand. However, this assumption is dangerous. Instead of perpetuating this myth, we should be encouraging our most extraordinary creative minds to live long, healthy lives.
The Trouble With Using Substances to Curb Anxiety and Spark Inspiration
Creative expression demands a high level of vulnerability in order for the work to be considered authentic and inspired. This leads an artist to explore deeper and often darker places concerning issues that can be uncomfortable though rewarding to delve into. Over time, it can be taxing trying to manage the emotional risks associated with creativity. This is where many artists turn to alcohol or drug use to alleviate the anxiety and fear surrounding the vulnerability in expressing themselves to others. However, this can turn into an artist feeling like they need alcohol or drugs to perform, be on stage, or create anything. They may even begin doubting their legitimacy as an artist without using substances, fearing that they would no longer be any good without it. Believing in this can further feed into anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and doubting one’s creative work. After a time, what the artist once thought would curb fears and fuel inspiration has, in turn, caused more anxiety and blocked their inspiration.
In the past, many societies have believed creativity stems from varying sources outside of the artist. Some believed creativity and inspiration came from an unseen, divine source such as the muses and gods. They believed that creativity “visited” the artists, and therefore, they were merely the transcribers. By thinking about creativity in this way, it takes a lot of pressure off of the artist as the sole creator and sole bearer of the consequences. However, when this modality of thinking switched to one that viewed the artist as godlike instead of merely being visited by the divine, all responsibility crashed back down onto the individual.
This perception of creativity lessens an artist’s ability to safely distance themselves psychologically from their work and what comes of it. Now, the weight from unrealistic expectations of performances becomes unmanageable. Many turn to drugs and alcohol to experience relief from this pressure and to find that distance between themselves and their work. In a way, the substances fill the space once occupied by the idea of being visited by the divine. Instead of being “visited” by these elusive divine deities, they are being visited by bouts of drinking and using drugs. Occasionally, when an artist admits having used substances when creating an exceptionally innovative product, the substance is assumed as the cause of the creation and not the artist themselves. Now, the substances take both the responsibility, ownership, and the fault for the work they create, and the artist becomes just the transcriber once again.
Adjusting Your Relationship with Creativity
Deciding to be sober as an artist is deciding to take back ownership of your life and your art. Living a creative life in sobriety can be fulfilling in ways that might not have been possible if you continued drinking or using drugs. It can be the jumpstart you need to follow your dreams and aspirations with a newfound clarity. Although the stressors that come with leading a creative lifestyle do not go away when being sober, how you choose to cope with them can make the difference between being a successful artist and possibly falling into the trite representation of the miserable, suffering artist.
Being an artist does not have to become an internalized, tormented way of life. Instead, it can be a wondrous and fun collaboration between your inner self and whatever inspires you. Rather than solely being a maddening introspective thing, your art can be a healthy way to continue living a long, happy, and creative life. By continuing to show up for the work you love to do—whether the inspiration comes or not—it allows you to say, “at least I truly showed up and tried my best.”
Deciding to be sober does not have to mean the end of a creative lifestyle. In fact, it can lead to a newfound sense of clarity and commitment to your dreams and aspirations. There have been many depictions of artists as being inspired sufferers who lead a life filled with drug and alcohol abuse. Perpetuating this assumption is dangerous and can be disheartening for aspiring artists. By choosing to be sober, you can not only take pride in not being a part of the perpetuation, but also that you are teaching future generations of artists that it is possible to be successful, creative, and healthy. Located in the Hollywood Hills, all of us at Alta Centers understand the symbolic message of opportunity, hopes, and dreams that the Hollywood sign represents and carry that message into how we operate our substance abuse treatment. To learn how we can help, call us at (888) 202-2583.