Do You Have to be a Tortured Soul to Make Good Art?


You’ve probably heard of the depressed and lonely artist who spends their days making incredible works of art inspired by their sad and disastrous life... It’s true that some people are able to translate their pain into brilliant art. But I have a feeling that most of those people are in the healing process. They draw on their life experiences of sadness or depression to create beautiful art, but in the moment of creating they are not at their lowest point.

Depression and anxiety can come in waves. The chances that your favorite artists suffers from depression and/or anxiety are actually pretty high.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Associate of America:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

I’ve found that when I’m feeling really down, I have zero motivation to create. The only thing I might do is write. But not in a way that sets me into flow…it’s more of a venting-into-my-journal-about-how-everything-is-shit-and-catastrophizing-about-how-I’m-never-going-to-blah-blah-blah kind of a thing. Although this is a very good form of release and a way to handle your anxiety/depression, it is not what I would consider good art-making. At least not for me.

All this isn’t to say that you have to be 100% happy and joyous in order to create. But you do not have to be a sad, tortured soul in order to make good art. For some people, it happens that way. For others it doesn’t. I find it hugely unfair that we think of these depressed artists as brilliant because they’ve created this magnificent art out of a sob story. But we don’t feel the same way about people who can’t make art out of their sadness. The people who are stuck and struggling to get by day to day. Those people CAN make great art. They just can’t use their pain to do so.

There are different ways to heal and cope with anxiety and/or depression. Dealing with it will be your journey to discover what works and what doesn’t. Maybe drawing helps you relax and gives you the peace of mind you’ve been looking for. It tends to do that for me. Maybe therapy or meditation. Maybe just spending time with friends and family. Whatever it takes to get you to the point of, “I’m ok”…a point in which you feel able to create again, that’s the point you want to aim for. You don’t have to be high on life or low on pain. Just find your balance and keep creating. Those in-between moments are just as wonderful for getting into that state of flow in order to pursue your passion.

I took this selfie when I was in Ireland a few months ago. My terrible gut was failing me again and I was recovering from some stomach discomfort. I sat on a bench and waited for my friends. The incredible crisp Irish air and green surroundings were slowly revitalizing me. I started to feel better and checked myself out on my phone’s camera to see if I looked as bad as I felt a few moments ago. The lighting was beautiful and the color of the wall behind me was soothing, so I took a selfie, caught between opposing emotions.


Fast forward a couple months and I’m back home, back to the routine, and back to doodling. I don’t think I was particularly sad or happy when I drew this. Was just on a break at my work and wanted to pass the time without getting sucked into my phone. It’s cathartic to doodle. So I doodle this.


I searched for an image to superimpose this doodle on. I found the selfie. And I didn’t know it then, but this perfectly captures the points I’ve highlighted above. And I don’t think that’s an accident.

Shani LeeadComment