Jump to content

Tortured artist

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889. Van Gogh, who struggled with poverty and mental illness for most of his life, is regarded as a famous example of the tortured artist.

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.[1]


The trope of the tortured artist is thought to have been started by Plato.[2]

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.[2][3] One of the most known "tortured artists" is Vincent van Gogh, who experts consider to have suffered from psychosis.[4][1]

Another figure matching the description of the "tortured artist" is Ludwig van Beethoven, who, after losing his hearing,[5] became increasingly reclusive and apathetic towards society.[6][7] In the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven confesses his loss of hearing to his brothers Nikolaus and Kaspar and tells them of his inability to converse regularly anymore as well as his contemplation of suicide.[8] Towards the end of his life, Beethoven used conversation books[9] to interact with his friends and acquaintances.

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, painted in 1820, long after he began to lose his hearing and became reclusive. Beethoven is in a forest writing his Missa Solemnis in D Major.

Criticism and research[edit]

The trope has been criticized for romanticizing mental illness, treating it as a necessary ingredient for creativity.[1] 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.[1] However, research has found that famous artists' less renowned work was produced when their mental illness was the most acute.[10]

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.[11][10]

List of Tortured Artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "van Gogh and Romanticizing the Tortured Artist". Postscript. 2019-03-04. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
  2. ^ a b "Scientists: The 'Tortured Artist' Is a Real Thing". www.mentalfloss.com. 2015-06-09. Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  3. ^ S4 E22: The Myth of the Tortured Artist | The Art Assignment, 2016-11-02, retrieved 2020-03-18
  4. ^ "Van Gogh: Painter 'suffered psychosis' in final 18 months". BBC. 2016-09-16. Retrieved 2021-03-30.
  5. ^ "The Deafness of Beethoven: The Medical Conclusion". 13 May 2011.
  6. ^ "Happy Birthday, Ludwig van Beethoven". 16 December 2014.
  7. ^ "A Glimpse into the Life of Ludwig van Beethoven". 16 January 2020.
  8. ^ "SUB Hamburg - HANS". allegro.sub.uni-hamburg.de. Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  9. ^ "The Beethoven Conversation Books — what were they?". Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. 2020-11-05. Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  10. ^ a b "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.
  11. ^ "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.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 978-1440530036. – 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.