There’s been a lot of art that I’ve consumed throughout my life which I assumed was fueled by grief and sorrow; in some way I thought these feelings were completely necessary for one to create substantial works. Throughout my high school and college years I romanticized the sadness of creators who I looked up to. When issues surrounding my own depression and anxiety rose up in high school I found solace in the idea that these feelings, though unpleasant, might someday lead to me to recording a great album or writing a story that would become a touching Hollywood film. In reality, these ambitions led to very little creation. I didn’t look into this lack of output. Instead I externalized my feelings onto the small town in which I grew up; nobody in this town understands me I told myself, when I leave it my artistic genius and feelings will be recognized and I’ll be free to create. I would read the Wikipedia pages of comedians and musicians who had also come from small towns. I imagined that they had felt just like me.
College would be my big break. Finally on my own, I could indulge fully in my emotions and artistic wants; surely groundbreaking work would be the result. Instead I found myself in a pattern of behavior that I thought mirrored my “idols”. To be fair I did a pretty good job of mimicking all of their formative behaviors other than any type of creative output. Alcohol seemed to be a muse for most of the folks that I looked up to so I would make it clear to everybody on my residence hall floor that I was very good at drinking; the writing and music could come later. Almost exactly one month into college I drank a handle of Vodka in one sitting purely to show off and was rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
The notion that someone would drink a handle of vodka to show they were an artist is an irrational, indefensible idea that is easy to judge; in all honesty it’s an idea that rightfully should be judged. If someone had sat me down directly after the incident and straight up asked “Did you really think people would view you as more of a true artistic powerhouse because you almost died drinking in a dorm?” I would have gotten very awkward, looked down, and muttered that it was in fact ridiculous. No one ever confronted me about this because I doubt anybody knew. It was only upon recent reflection that I realized the main motive of the stunt was to posture myself as some sort of tortured artist (I’d say 80% was the artist thing and 20% was to impress a girl which isn’t much better).
Even after puking blood in front of my new friends and being told I “almost died” at the time I didn’t fault myself for what happened. A twinge in my heart told me that what I had done was actually good. The fact that it was illogical just added fuel to the “misunderstood artist” idea I’d been romanticizing since the first time I googled “Sid Vicious”. As my freshman year of college continued I spent many a night laying in my bunk staring at the bottom of roommates mattress thinking about recording an album about my life. The headlines of the blogs sure to be written about my album would mention how only months early it seemed that I was going to die of alcohol poisoning, only to return stronger than ever with a musical tour de force the likes of which are rarely seen; reviews like this would surely lead to me becoming a college music icon. The next day I would google something like “how to get your music reviewed by Pitchfork”. I would then proceed to drink more and listen to Chiddy Bang in my dorm room. I wrote zero songs that year.
At this time I had always viewed art as noble; because of this I had also always viewed artists as noble. Actions and emotions in their life, whether good or bad, are what let to them creating their works, meaning that generally these actions and emotions were noble as well. With this mindset and the intent to create (even if this intent was really just playing guitar a few times a month) it becomes very easy to excuse all bad decisions one makes as part of the artistic process. Every rift with those close to me or negative consequence of my actions were signs of artistic strife to me; they would make the content created on the other side of all of this that much sweeter. I heard that artists rarely slept, so I did the same. Sure, I didn’t actually make any art, but I told myself that self inflicted insomnia was half the battle and the rest would come. This pattern continued for three years.
Thought I have more recent examples of how my “bold artist” delusion has negatively impacted me I’ve used the earlier story from my Freshman year of college because viewing things through that frame makes it easier to critique them. I mean this both for me personally and for someone reading this and relating/reflecting it back on their own experiences. Leaving it at that would be easy, making the events and ideas a cautionary tale for those about to explore living and creating away from their parents; it would create emotional distance. It also would not be reflexive. If I’m being completely honest, sometimes the earlier mentioned delusions of artistic grandeur still find there ways to my head.
I’m not constantly imagining fame anymore but it is easy to hold myself in higher esteem than those around me due to my artistic ambitions, especially when doing so is easier than admitting that I’ve made a mistake or had a lapse of judgement; my delusions become a band aid. I’ve ghosted people and blamed it on “my work ethic” rather than my lack of care in handling the situation in a mature manner. It’s an easy way to wrong people and stay the hero in your own mind, freeing you to drink at an open mic for another day guilt free.
As I stated before there’s a danger in viewing others as totally noble artists; you can create heroes out of people that don’t exist and long for things that are in truth fantasy. Once you start to see yourself as the noble artist you’ve entered another level of danger altogether. It’s very addicting, and I’ve only recently been able to curb this way of thinking. It is initially painful. When I ripped the bandaid off I realized two things:
That I’d treated others poorly in the interest of feeding my own ego and fantasies
That I’d romanticized mental health issues as the muse of a future magnum opus that likely would never exist.
These are not pleasant things to realize. I now had all of my problems with no justification. On top of this I had to examine why I had pursued art in the first place. My motivations now lay bare and I was disgusted to see how often I’d used my artistic pursuits to impress or posture. I’d been navigating so many aspects of my life with pretension in hopes nobody would know I was lost. I realized I’d been covering with a band aid a wound that required stitches.
These thoughts and discoveries were uncomfortable in nature but I also think they are a necessary step for my journey towards becoming the person I want to be. When, just for a second, I was able to briefly separate my happiness from the things I was creating I realized that success with my art rarely coincided with my actual happiness level during that period. Much of my greatest successes had led only to me interrogating myself as a fraud, becoming worried that I had “peaked” and would soon be exposed. This wasn’t something that I wanted to chase anymore; it was a sobering moment.
I’d like to be clear here that I’m not advocating for someone to give up completely on their pursuits or to completely separate their joy from their art. The ability and desire to create is amazing, and art is a great source of happiness. This happiness and desire becomes corrupted when the desire becomes your only inspiration, and it’s easy to self destruct. Have dreams, but be responsible with them. This has all been said before; I read similar things to this through high school, college and beyond and brushed them off. Hopefully you can stop brushing them off before you get alcohol poisoning listening to Odd Future in the middle of Missouri. Good luck out there.