A tortured artist is a stock character and stereotype who is in constant torment due to frustrations with art, other people, or the world in general. The trope is often associated with mental illness.
Creativity and mental illness have been connected over time. Some mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, have been said to have helped popular artists with their works. One of the most known "tortured artists" is Vincent Van Gogh, who experts consider to have suffered from psychosis.
Criticism and research
The trope has, however, been criticized for romanticizing mental illness, treating it as a necessary ingredient for creativity. It has been suggested as contributing to the suicides of musicians such as Kurt Cobain. According to a study conducted at the University of Southampton, artwork is perceived to be superior if the observer is told that the artist is mentally ill. However, research has found that famous artists' less renowned work was produced when their mental illness was the most acute.
Multiple studies have found that rates of mental illness were several times greater than average in creative professions. According to Victoria Tischler of the University of West London, creative fields often have low wages and long working hours, leading to poor mental health.
- "van Gogh and Romanticizing the Tortured Artist". Postscript. 2019-03-04. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
- "Scientists: The 'Tortured Artist' Is a Real Thing". www.mentalfloss.com. 2015-06-09. Retrieved 2020-03-18.
- S4 E22: The Myth of the Tortured Artist | The Art Assignment, 2016-11-02, retrieved 2020-03-18
- "Van Gogh: Painter 'suffered psychosis' in final 18 months". BBC. 2016-09-16. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
- "The myth of the tortured artist: How New Zealand is safeguarding mental health in the arts". The New Zealand Herald. 2018-11-25. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
- "The tortured artist is a dangerous myth. It's the way creative workers are treated that causes breakdown". The Independent. 2018-10-10. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
- Redfield Jamison, Kay (1996). Touched With Fire. New York: Free Press. ISBN 068483183X. – looks at the relationship between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity. It contains a number of case histories of dead people who are described as probably having suffered from bipolar disorder.
- Zara, Christopher (2012). Tortured Artists. Avon, Mass: Adams Media. ISBN 1440530033. – shows the universal nature of the tortured artist stereotype and how it applies to all of the creative disciplines, including film, theater, literature, music and visual art. The artists profiled in the book have generally made major contributions to their respective mediums (Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Parker, Lenny Bruce, Michelangelo, Kurt Cobain, Madonna, Andy Warhol, Amy Winehouse, Ernest Hemingway and dozens of others), but the book shows how, in each case, their art was inspired by pain and suffering.