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The Myth of Suffering for Art

There’s a longstanding myth pervading creative culture that in order to be a legitimate artist, one must suffer. I believed this in my teens and twenties without really understanding or even investigating what it meant. I wrote off my darkness as duty, or as an inescapable side effect of creativity, the price I paid for the magic. Instead of confronting it, I leaned into it like an identity.

But the identity of the artist must be fluid. I need only examine my history of haircuts to find proof in my own life. And yet I cling to each new identity as if it will be permanent. This capacity to commit, release, and recommit is, I believe, essential to performing the real duty of the artist: transmuting personal truths into universal ones.

I don’t believe my writing is better because I have bipolar II disorder. There is no inherent value in suffering. Art made by miserable people is not better than art made by happy people. Looking back, if I had seen this myth for what it was – dangerous bullshit – I might have sought mental health treatment sooner. 

Artists: you will still be creative with therapy, on meds, outside that bad relationship, off drugs, or with a day job that pays you enough to live decently. You may never be satisfied – and that divine dissatisfaction will drive you forward – but in order to sustain a long and meaningful creative life, you must reject the myth that suffering is necessary.