This is a slightly different take on Tales of Despair this week; rather than focusing on a particular artist, I want to address the nature of despair and depression in art – why is it that darkness forms such a large part of the things we create? What is it that drives the most wonderful among us to the brink of despair?
There was once a young boy who grew up in an idyllic family environment; a boy who enjoyed life and love to paint and draw. And then, when he was only seven years old, his parents divorced. No one spoke to him about it. No one asked him how he felt. His father promised not to remarry, and did. He had another child, and the boy felt replaced. His mother remarried, and was beaten, and abused, and hospitalized. The boy watched each time. The adults, they didn’t see him. They didn’t care.
He continued to draw, and to paint. His work grew dark. He learned to play, and his music was dark. He took drugs, and it took his mind away, and relived the pain for a short moment.
And when he left his home, he avoided people; he made few friends, and they shared his misery. Some of them played too, and they began to play together. Out of the depths of depression, the music they made lifted him; he wrote about his pain, and he sang it to the world. And the world – they drank it deeply, and said he was a great artist. They said he was the voice of a generation; they said he would change the world.
And he didn’t care for what they said. Each word of praise demeaned his writing, abused his art. His music hated the world, and they were too dumb to see it. And he lost the joy his music brought him, and he began to despair. He sank, and was consumed by the black, and knew the world, for him, was ended. One April day, he locked himself away, and killed himself.
He was twenty-seven, and his name was Kurt.
His death was untimely, and it is accepted as a tragedy. Yet it is a tale that is told, over and over again, throughout history and the world of creators.
We suffer, we despair, and the rest of the world asks, why? Of course, the rest of us understand it all too well; insight grants us the pain of doubt, the fear of rejection, the knowledge that all goodness comes to an end.
Yet, why is it that so many of us, so many of those who create, are so afflicted? Hands up if your are a happy artist. In this imaginary crowd, you may well be in the minority. Is it intrinsic, or wrought by outside influence? Do we create because we despair, or do we despair of our creations?
Perhaps it is some of both. When I write, I am lifted, as Kurt was, to a higher plane, a place where words and music float and flow, and the terrible visions in my mind find their way to paper and into sound in the air, and I am relieved of their pain. But when I come down, I look upon my creations, and I am filled with loathing: they are ignorant, they are plagiarism, they lack all subtlety, and are but a poor shadow of the great.
Perhaps the need to create is driven by the hopeless desire to express the inexpressible – how could anyone understand the absolute certainty that the things we create, that bring such value to so many, are inherently worthless? How could anyone understand what it’s like to be consumed by blackness, until your very vision is tinted and the world turns to grey? There are no words, no colors, no sounds that can explain how no bodily wound can equal the agony of a mind turned upon itself.
And yet we persist, we continue to try. We paint with blacks and reds; we write with heavy words that drag down the soul; we play in minor keys and descending notes, recreating the descent into the final, endless darkness.
And eventually, we may join the Kurts, the Vincents, the Ernests and the Sylvias and Virginias; and how could anyone understand the comfort of knowing that, in a world that is chaos and destruction and uncontrollable evil, we have at least the power to bring about our own ending.
We are doomed to create, and doomed to suffer; may we be at least also be doomed to see the beauty in the work of our fellow creators, if never in our own.