There is absolutely no denying that well-known artists in the past have been known for having tumultuous lives; Mozart was a miserable wino until the day he died because he never managed to make his father proud of him, Zdzisław Beksiński lived a long terrorized by nightmares that he turned into some of the most haunting paintings in art history and was stabbed at age 75 by a teenager when he refused to lend him money, Van Gogh was so heartbroken after Paul Gaugin left the house they shared following a dispute between them that he severed his own left ear, etc. Due to dramatic life stories such as these, plus a fair share of media glamorization in recent times, there has been this idea implanted in our society that an artist must be a broken individual full of vices that will eventually kill him or her, preferable at age 27.
I totally disagree with this conception of the art maker for a lot of reasons, but I find the edgiest of them to be the argument that through the consumption of drugs one’s imagination is truly set free, and thus the greatest works of art can be envisioned. I think people who defend this just do not know what imagination is because they do not have it at all. I agree with drugs being a faster and effective way for your mind to evade from reality, but getting high as a kite on mushrooms is not a guarantee that you will reach the Nirvana of creativity. Most likely you will just laugh or freak out for six hours and when you sober up you will feel very disappointed that you have not become the next Da Vinci. One might use the Naked Lunch example to argue against my point. This is a book that William S. Burroughs wrote in its entirety while sky-high on all sorts of drugs, but the result is an amalgam of vignettes that the author himself admits that follow no logical order despite sharing a protagonist. Crafting the arc of a story is not a subconscious process; quite the opposite, actually. J. R. R. Tolkien did not wake up one day after smoking a joint with the whole Lord of the Rings book series planned. It took him years to develop the intricacy of characters plots and subplots. Now, taking drugs to witness imagery that can inspire you? That is a different debate. My point here is that drugs and substances alike do not confer the power of artistry; they merely enhance it, which is to say that they are not a condition sine qua non for someone to elaborate a work of art. I fact, I would always advice for artists to seek new mental imagery through means that would not involve addictive substances. Have a few beers once in a while. Have a joint every now and then. But the moment you create a need for your body to consume alcohol, weed, or any other drug in order for your creative mind to work, then you are entering a vicious cycle where every time you wish to create, you will need more and more of whatever you are using to fuel your imagination.
The myth of the bohemian artist suggests that freedom of mind comes only when people open themselves to any given pleasure and experience without thinking about consequences, but I believe that is falling into hedonism. The artist is a creator of knowledge, and as such there should be a balance within his mind between methodic sobriety and childish whimsicality. It is important to bend the rules with your creative process, for it is the only way to bring something new to the game in any art discipline, but falling into glamorized self-destructive habits in the process does not give a higher meaning to your art, it just makes it controversial.
Written by Javier Gonzales