“Great art comes from great pain.”
A fully loaded and explosive statement if ever there was one, this is the primary proposition in Christopher Zara’s recent book Tortured Artists, a collection of forty-eight profiles on some of the most celebrated artists of the millennium—from Mozart to Woolf, Garland to Disney.
What exactly, though, is Mr. Zara suggesting?
According to the managing editor of Show Business himself, “I never claimed that art cannot be produced without suffering, only that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good.”
Zara is not the first to remark on behalf of this haunting stock character. In fact, the tortured artist mythology is one that has sustained a life of its own for centuries, overflowing with the same torment associated with the artists in Zara’s collection—full of devout self-hatred, extreme cases of introverted or extroverted tendencies, sexual frustrations, personality disorders, tremendous amounts of substance abuse, and high rates of suicide.
And still beyond any shadow of a doubt, in these ashes were some of the greatest artistic achievements born.
By looking at the profiles and history alone, one might be quick to say art is more formulaic than we ever perceived. True art can be reduced to a mere mathematical equation where anguish stands idly left of the equality sign and magnificence resides on the other (do what you will with the variables).
Of course, my aim is not to present art as a formula. It is also not my desire to debunk the tortured-artist concept entirely. It’s a fascinating one and I want to investigate it more critically. Read the rest of this entry »