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Tortured artists feel alienated and misunderstood due to the perceived ignorance or neglect of others who do not understand nor support them and the things they feel are important. They sometimes smoke, experience sexual frustration and recurring heartbreak, and generally appear overwhelmed by their own emotions and inner conflicts. They are often mocked in popular culture for "thinking too much", being quixotic, or coming across as pretentiously averse to happiness and fun. Other stereotypical traits vary between extremes—from being narcissistic and extraverted to being self-loathing and introverted. Tortured artists are often self-destructive in behavior and are generally associated with mental health issues such as substance abuse, personality disorders or depression. Tortured artists are often prone to self-mutilation and have a high rate of suicide.
- 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.