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Why Miserable Artwork Is Good for You

Why Miserable Artwork Is Good for You

Why Depressing Art Is Good for You

When filmmaker Charlie Kaufman acquired the Writers Guild of America West’s 2023 Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement in March, the inventive genius behind Being John Malkovich (1999) and Everlasting Sunshine of the Spotless Thoughts (2004) used the ceremony to precise his dissatisfaction with the present state of the movie trade.

“They’ve tricked us into pondering we will’t do it with out them,” he mentioned. “The reality is they’ll’t do something of worth with out us.” Kaufman has made comparable statements earlier than. He believes that, apart from its obsession with revenue, Hollywood has gotten into the behavior of constructing formulaic movies that sugarcoat the nihilistic cruelty of existence with disingenuous platitudes.

In Kaufman’s most up-to-date movie, I’m Considering of Ending Issues, the primary character lists a few of these platitudes throughout a nervous breakdown. They embody: “It’s going to get higher;” “It’s by no means too late;” “God has a plan for you;” “Age is only a quantity;” “It’s all the time darkest earlier than the daybreak;” “Each cloud has a silver lining;” and “There’s somebody for everybody.” 

For a filmmaker who tries to persuade you that existence is pointless, even evil, Kaufman is surprisingly common. So common, the truth is, that his affect might be discovered in lots of indie hits, together with Ari Aster’s new horror movie Beau is Afraid, which movie critic Jason Adams described as anxiety-inducing to the purpose it is going to have you ever “upping your meds the minute you permit the theater.”

Studying this made me consider Plato’s Republic. Whereas the thinker’s ultimate state is extra dystopian than utopian, there are arguments I discover wise, together with that artwork ought to play a sensible position in society. Simply as Plato believed that troopers shouldn’t learn poems about forgiveness earlier than a battle, so I’m wondering if individuals ought to entertain artwork that makes them really feel they want antidepressants, to paraphrase the aforementioned movie critic. 

Miserable artwork can nonetheless make a constructive affect on the world. Ilya Repin’s 1885 portray “Ivan the Horrible and His Son Ivan” involves thoughts, as do Wilhelm Brasse’s images of German focus camps. Each artists present the place the darkest human impulses can lead us and encourage us to be higher. 

One other instance is the Japanese movie Drive My Automotive (2021) which, just like the play by Anton Chekhov it adapts, implores its viewers to place up with the unavoidable ache and struggling life will throw their approach, reasonably than give up to it. 

The ending of Synecdoche, New York is completely devoid of hope.

Not all miserable artwork possesses these redeeming qualities. Whereas Kaufman’s 2008 directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, a couple of hypochondriac theater director hellbent on sharing his paralyzing concern of loss of life with these round him, blew me away with its manufacturing high quality, it additionally induced me to remain up late worrying about medical issues I didn’t have. One evening, after one too many beers, I even quoted the movie after I advised my finest buddy that “everyone seems to be disappointing, the extra you already know somebody.”

There’s an ideal article on Aeon exploring why unhappiness options extra prominently in artwork than happiness. It’s prefaced by Henry Wallis’s “Chatterton” (c. 1856), a portray depicting the titular Romantic poet after committing suicide at age 17 by ingesting arsenic. Whereas there may be proof that Chatterton by no means took his personal life, the romanticization of his loss of life led many angsty younger Englishmen to emulate him. 

Henry Wallis, “The Loss of life of Chatterton” (c. 1856), oil on panel (picture by way of Wikimedia Commons/Collections British Artwork Yale)

The identical occurred to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epistolary novel The Sorrows of Younger Werther, by which the younger hero shoots himself to flee a love triangle. The 1774 novel impressed so many copycat suicides that the phenomenon is known as the “Werther Impact,” a time period that got here up after the suicides of Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain.

Vincent van Gogh, “Self-portrait with bandaged ear and pipe” (1889), oil on canvas (picture by way of Wikimedia Commons)

The Werther Impact is carefully related to the parable of the tortured artist, which suggests a constructive correlation between intelligence, creativity, and psychological sickness. A well-liked perception about probably the most well-known tortured artist, Vincent van Gogh, is that his insanity was the very supply of his expertise. 

Van Gogh’s personal writing paints a special image: that he was a proficient artist not as a result of he was mentally unwell, however despite it. Confined to an asylum after chopping his ear, portray helped him maintain onto his steadily eroding sanity. “Oh, if I may have labored with out this accursed illness,” he wrote in a letter, “what issues I might need finished.”

Right now the majority of scientific professionals consider there may be certainly a hyperlink between psychological well being and creativity. Nonetheless, it’s not the one offered by the parable of the tortured artist. Whereas melancholy doesn’t seem that can assist you make or admire artwork, making artwork does appear to assist enhance signs of melancholy. It’s because of this that artwork is an important human want.

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