Creativity and Self-Destruction: The Lives of Wounded Visionaries

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I used to be addicted to the biographical stories (and the various myths that grew up around them) of the many wounded and gifted artists throughout history. I had the sense that I was staring into some kind of over-sized mirror, which offered me a reflection of a more cinematic self, as I followed their lives.

It scarcely bothered me, at the time, that so many of them had died young, or that the time they did spend here on Earth was often filled with suffering. Their otherworldly creations seemed to justify such sacrifices, and it seemed appropriate that their incredible bursts of inspiration could only be sustained for so long.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

But if creativity is meant to be life affirming, then why should one expect that the creative impulse will inevitably destroy whoever serves as its conduit? And why do the stories of countless burnt out artistic lives seem to confirm that theory?

We need our artists to demonstrate how one can live with a creative vision, even thrive because of its presence. Thus far, as history has demonstrated, the arrangement has oftentimes not worked out that way.

Is this failure symptomatic of some dysfunction within the artists, some lack of self-love or belief, or rather a consequence of a society that gives them little space to breathe and feel at home?

Intensity vs. Longevity

We may also have to consider the possibility that these great creators planned their destinies in just this way all along. Perhaps they never intended to be 'long for the world'.

It may have been their soul missions to express what they needed to - in one conflagration of inspiration akin to the passing of a comet before our eyes - and then disappear before the world and its ways began to make too much of an impression upon their peculiar innocence...

Sidestepping the Cliche

I spun the core of my novel What Casts the Shadow? around a young artist both brilliant and (seemingly) doomed. I wanted to explore the question of whether he could be 'saved'. Could he somehow keep his vision intact and yet still enjoy a balanced and fulfilling earthly life? Could he sidestep the ‘live fast, die young’ credo and cliché of rock'n'roll?

I knew that, in order to do so, he would need guidance.That's how his mentor Saul came to be.

Saul snapped his fingers. “Easier to pretend not to give a shit. That’s the posture of many a hard rocking band, as you know. But you never really wanted to be in that sort of a band, did you?”

“No. But this is a cynical age we’re living in, Saul.”

“And since when do you care about the spirit of the age?” he challenged me. “Aren’t you guys the band that discards convention and bucks every trend? Haven’t you put your finger on it yet, what you’ve been seeking ever since you jettisoned all your old songs and started reinventing yourself?”

“I wanted the music to be an outlet for everything that we feel,” I said, “not just the anger and aggression.” 

 “Yes! And a big part of that, I’m willing to bet anything, is that you’ve been looking for an outlet for your idealism. Yes, being cynical and jaded is the order of business in the modern world. And you listen to a lot of cynical bands, too. But there’s that part of you that wants to say, ‘Screw it – I believe in humanity; and I believe in myself.’ Even if it means that you won’t look so tough in the arena of hard rock swagger and insouciance.”