Many talented, creative people have used drugs and alcohol. Some think a substance will help them be more inspired or productive.
Or they may be self-medicating their sensitivity. Sometimes they risk addiction.
Beethoven reportedly drank wine about as often as he wrote music, and was an alcoholic or at least a problem-drinker.
At least five U.S. writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature have been considered alcoholics.
Musician Ani DiFranco produced her album “Educated Guess” entirely on her own.
An interviewer asked, “Your approach, your energy on the current tour and on the new album seem different. Why is that?”
DiFranco replied, “The difference is solitude. I have it in my life now, and I didn’t for years, at all… now I’m alone on stage, it’s been like a year and a half, and I’m alone in my dressing room and I’m alone in my home.
“And there’s just a lot less people around. So it allows for more contemplation.”
Here are some comments by actors about being sensitive and emotional – perspectives that other creative people may share.
Jennifer Beals once said, “I get emotional all the time. I get emotional every time I make a speech, or talk about other cast members. Every now and again, my heart just explodes and expands.” [Photo: with Tim Roth in the TV series Lie To Me.]
Laurel Holloman, Beal’s castmate on the Showtime series “The L Word,” has seen this firsthand: “If Jennifer is passionate about something, it comes to the surface within seconds. My theory on that is all the best actors have a couple of layers of skin peeled away. There’s a huge emotional life in Jennifer, and it’s kind of beautiful.” [From article The Real Beals, by Jancee Dunn, Lifetime lifetimetv.com, August 2004]
In a SALON magazine interview, Amy Tan said, “I think I was pushed in a way to write this book (‘The Hundred Secret Senses’) by certain spirits in my life – the yin people. They’ve always been there, I wouldn’t say to help, but to kick me in the ass to write.
“I’m educated, I’m reasonably sane, and I know that this subject is fodder for ridicule. But ultimately, I have to write what I have to write about, including the question of life continuing beyond our ordinary senses.”
Are there benevolent ghosts, angels, fairies or Muses? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.
But Tan’s candor about such spirit beings may, for many people, be “fodder for ridicule” or add fuel to the idea of the “crazy” artist.
Actor Claire Danes also commented in an interview that, earlier in her life, she was “on this whole perfection trip. And that’s just totally boring. And arrogant!…
“I finally realized after years of therapy… that you can encourage yourself to move further in a nurturing way. You don’t have to be abusive.” [Allure, Nov., 1997]
Many creative people have talked about how valuable it can be to use therapy or counseling for dealing with challenges, or to enhance self-understanding.
Jane Fonda: “Acting was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, I was so shy. But I got fired as a secretary and had to earn some money.”
She discovered her passion for acting in the mid-1950s while studying with famed drama coach Lee Strasberg, who told her she was special and had real talent: “It was like the top of my head came off and birds flew out and the sun came out and my life changed.”
But, she admits, “I didn’t get over my shyness until I was about sixty.” [“Private Screenings,” Turner Classic Movies interview by Robert Osborne, Mar 29 2007]
Fonda is far from unique in being shy, while still choosing a creative profession that is very public.
Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is quoted in the article “Sara Bareilles finds her focus — finally” by Amy Kaufman [Los Angeles Times, Sept 8, 2010], who notes that the musician’s first hit “Love Song” was about “the disdain she felt toward record label executives who insisted she deliver a commercial radio single.”
Some people make creative projects that are hidden from view – such as a novel that never gets published – but probably most creative expression is public at some point, to some extent.
And shutting off our need for creative expression, not honoring this key aspect of who we really are, can itself be profoundly depressing.
In the article “The mind, as it evolves – Depression as a survival tool?” by Julia M. Klein, psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson Jr. talks about treating an 18-year-old college freshman he describes as “intensely depressed, feeling suicidal and doing self-cutting.”
The article notes, “He decided that her symptoms might be a way of signaling her unhappiness to people close to her. He discovered that his client’s parents had pressured her to attend the university and major in science, even though her real interest lay in the arts.”
Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002) was a French sculptor, painter, and film maker. She was self educated, and learned from many of the Surrealists in Paris, such as Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, and Salvador Dali.
Among the challenges she faced were being uprooted from her mother for the first three years of her life, and being raped by her father at a young age. [Info from a biography page.]
One consequence of that kind of abuse may be deep rage, and art can help deal with that anger and spiritual wounding constructively.