Addictive substances are called ‘mind-altering substances’ for a reason. They have the capacity to influence the creative process of artists. Artists from various fields have been known to be addicted to various substances throughout their life. A lot of artworks that are regarded as legendary have been painted under the influence of some substance.
This is not because the substances make you inherently creative. They just help reduce inhibitions which allows for a more risk-taking approach to the art being created. On the long run, this negatively affects the creative process. What initially gave the artist pleasure will start tampering with their process and render them incapable of going through with their work.
The negative effects of these addictions are impacts on physical and mental health that don’t allow them to work. Addictions also damage the dopamine-receptive systems to a great extent making the artist so dependent at one point that they are never motivated to do their work.
There have been many great creative minds who have been a victim of substance abuse. Even the great Beethoven was an alcoholic. Edgar Allen Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge have all been known to have excessive substance and alcohol abuse at some point in their life.
People who are sad or suffer from some mental health issue are more prone to being addicted to a substance. This happens because substances are used as a way of avoiding or confronting issues. William Pryor in his article states that sadness and a sense of dread about the world makes a significant part of the human condition is what makes addicts of people. The sense of self-awareness of the human conscience directly correlates to the need for an escape from the mundane life that people lead.
This behaviour soon goes wrong and stops working. Usage of substances is a temporary coping mechanism that only has an unhealthy effect on the being and only leads to the development of self-destructive behaviour.
There are a lot of gifted people who have been candid about the negative impacts of alcohol and drugs on their life and career. This admission comes from big-time movie stars like Robert Downey Jr. to fine artists like Vincent Van Gogh. Though the substances as such didn’t impact the quality of their work it is true that they worked better during their periods of sobriety because they were more aware of what they were doing.
Drugs don’t alter or improve the creativity of people as it is often believed. It merely acts as a tool to express your creativity without holding back. The problem with this arises when aid becomes an addiction. At that point, it longer enhances your work but only contributes to your deteriorating health.
Van Gogh is one artist that we always turn to when tragedy comes up. He is one of the most tragic artists and a lot of his renowned works stem from this tragedy. This in no way means that you should romanticise the entire case for tragedy. The deteriorating mental and physical health of the artists lead him to him being addicted to alcohol like Absinthe and a drug called digitalis. The latter is said to have contributed to the yellow-ish tinge that we find in a lot of his works like “sunflower”. This does not mean that we can attribute his creative prowess to substance use. He has himself said that his work was much better when he stopped drinking. The creativity was always within him and if he had access to healthier ways of dealing with his issues we probably didn’t have to have lost him to such a tragic history.
Another great artist that the world lost to the world of substance abuse was Thomas Kinkade. His autopsy indicated that he died of acute ethanol and diazepam intoxication. The artist who was known for his fairytale-like images didn’t have such a magical life himself. His personal losses and problems like divorce and financial issues caused him to turn to unhealthy outlets for his sorrow. He always believed that he could control his addiction but lost his life to it. This is a glaring reminder of the fact that it is very difficult to not succumb to the ill-effects of these substances and reiterates the importance of using healthier ways of coping with issues.
Andy Warhol, known for his colourful creations didn’t have a colourful life himself. His life was stained with mental health issues like anxiety and this plagued a lot of his existence. During his moments of vulnerability, he turned to obsessive use of Obetrol as a solution. While his drugs might have caused the creation of a lof of his eccentric tendencies as an artist, a lot of prized works came before the use of any medication.
Even Jason Pollock died in a drunk and driving incident. He was a heavy-drinker since a young age and used it as a way of coping with his struggles in life. His works were a clear indication of the internal struggles of the artist. Despite giving us some beautiful works maybe his life would not have been so shortlived if he had learned to cope with emotions using healthier cognitive therapy.
Mark Rothko, who is known for his infamous “Orange and yellow” was someone whose life was taken over by his personal tragedies. His artworks and the way he would play with the colours is almost like he opened a portal to emotions. He is mostly associated with the abstract expressionism movement but none of these seemed to be enough as an outlet for the sadness he built within him. At the age of 66, he committed suicide by overdosing and slitting his wrists.
Art is a sort of expressionism. The creative process causes you to be in touch with your emotions and thinking about the never-ending dread that seems to envelop your life but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We should stop romanticising tragedies by associating it with creative genius. One can derive ideas from personal experience but that should never be ever-consuming. Addressing your mental health and realising your true potential is the only way to create art that is enriching to both the artists and the art.