The Artist as Tortured Genius
What really pisses me off is this idea that I am this tortured artist. That is something based on flimsy evidence which is endlessly being projected back onto us. It is just reductive and dull. In order to be creative there has to be a distance from you and the thing itself. It is only when the distance gets confused that things go wrong. If you actually start to believe that you are what you write, then you have f***ing had it. You have had it and you ain't coming back. To assume that everything is about somebody's life is to assume that that person is inherently stupid and isn't capable of absorbing anything else. The whole point of creativity is that you spend your whole life absorbing things almost to where it is unbearable. The way you deal with it is (to) get out.
-Thom Yorke of Radiohead, in an interview with Pulse, quoted in Kid A by Marvin Lin.
The media has created an image of Thom Yorke as tortured artist and genius. They have done this with a wide range of people, from Phil Collins to Mozart, and are moving beyond Beethoven to others like Schubert, and including performers (Glenn Gould comes to mind, as does the craze around David Helfgott when Shine came out about 10 years ago).
Do we need to have this mystique of the artist/performer as a tortured soul to help explain their music, to give it some authenticity? Why are we continuously attracted to this story, even though historians have shown that Mozart and Beethoven, for example, weren't as tormented as we believe?
Lady Gaga has said that "Music is a lie. It is a lie. Art is a lie." Is that any different than what Thom Yorke said? Should we, as artists and performers, believe that art is a lie?
Share your thoughts below!
Related post: Is Lady Gaga Wrong? (Is art a lie?)
(Apparently I can't respond to individual comments on my blog, or I don't know how, so until I figure it out I'll post responses as a follow-up entry.)
Matt brings up a very good point about Thom Yorke lashing out at the interviewer - he is an enigma, and tries to keep himself so, which probably leads to the media covering him more and creating a persona, since he isn't creating one himself. Perhaps he's not the best example to use for this topic.
Regardless, Wayne brought up a good point, too: "the work gets done." Art gets created, performed, viewed, read, no matter how exactly it happens (and we can't always trust a composer's account of things, and John Adams recently pointed out).
I think that what I perhaps intended to address, or at least suggest, was that the media feeds on images of tortured artists - and I can get caught up in them as much as the next person - but there are plenty of incredible artists in any field (music, visual, literature, etc.) who don't fall into the idea of tortured genius, and I don't think it's a "requirement" to be a successful artist.
To start down a different path, perhaps this is a reason why artists such as Beethoven, Sylvia Plath, Jackson Pollack, et al, have been so revered: not simply because they've produced great works of art, but because their personal story (or at least what we have created that story to be) is intriguing and gives their art an element of "other-worldliness." We get the idea that we should be so privileged to have a window into their life, that's so different and separate from the "real" world that the rest of us reside in. It's connected to Matt's notion of "transcendence" in his comment about a Darcy James Argue piece. If an artist was able to transcend their personal struggles to create something enduring, perhaps we can do the same.
I brought up quite a few ideas and tangents here, and might be making myself less-clear instead of responding and clarifying, but that's how it goes for now.
Thanks for the conversation!