Poll: Is “Suffering” A Prerequisite For Being Creative?

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh

Is the “suffering artist” just a myth or is it necessary to suffer in order to be creative? Should studio sessions exhaust you? Or can creating be relaxing and induce calm in the artist? Must the artist suffer emotionally or psychologically?


MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at mtmcclanahan.com.

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19 Responses

  1. I wrote on LinkedIn: For me, Art defined as ethereal must come from deep within the artist’s psyche and even from some other place. Yes that is weird probably but if you accept this premise then I think this can only occur in the midst of some type of angst.

    Maybe the angst comes from not being able to identify those connections that guide us in creating.

  2. Even an “itch” is, I suppose, a type of suffering.
    A wondering…or being compelled to “find out.” ?

  3. roopadudley says:

    Most of my creative ideas for painting ambush me when I am taking a shower. Some when I am reading and drinking coffee or when I am dreaming (during the day or night).

    • That shows the degree to which the “idea” guides your work. And I would say that you see no angst in your process (mental turmoil). But even still, I believe the psyche must needs be comprised of the proverbial yin, and the yang, to even exist. Maybe a person isn’t aware of one so much when their makeup points to the other.

  4. elenaslc9 says:

    To be creative… it is a biggest enjoyment for me. I would be so suffering if somebody will take of me the possibility to create.
    Creativity cames naturally… without efforts. But the working process by itself needs a lot of patience and labor and effort. During the creative process you can be upset, disappointed, anxious, in a state of panic or absolutely happy…

    • Well stated–creativity is probably felt as a necessity to anyone that sees himself as an artist.

      There is a deference between the arduousness of an exhilarating studio session and, say, anxiousness that comes from a feeling of inadequacy. I would not define “hard work” as suffering in this sense.

  5. Often when in deep depression humorous ideas pop up for drawing. Sense of humor sometimes operates “in spite of”.

  6. robert says:

    That we suffer is a given in Life. and that we are creative is also a given. Can we use the latter to transform the former into beauty?

    • roopadudley says:

      That is my quest. Wish me luck.

    • I thought it odd that when my wife had cancer, that that stress did not prompt me to create. It actually did the opposite–stifled me. Odd because I do feel there is angst/suffering (suffering sounds so melodramatic doesn’t it, and self absorbed) inside of me that is a big motivator to my desire to express.

      • roopadudley says:

        The angst of not being understood by the world and the horror of being understood by someone both are forms of suffering but diametrically opposite (in suffering spectrum) insomuch that former brings melancholia and loneliness and the later brings paranoia and vulnerability. Understandable. Finding out that we may loose our loved one unnaturally is a different class of suffering — it is mourning — which basically is death of creativity as it shuts it down completely in order to cope with the anguish till we come to terms with it.

  7. Marion Hyde, on LinkedIn wrote:

    “I have never suffered from hunger, lack of love or homelessness because of art. Yet I suffer almost daily because of my art. On occasion a piece comes together with little effort. This is a rare occurrence. I generally find myself in difficulty in solving a visual problem. A great deal of anguish occurs in the process of finding a solution. Frequently the symptoms include a lack of sleep, a loss of appetite, and a desire to be left alone. These symptoms can persist for days. At times one considers giving up the discipline. The suffering is in the mind. I have been teaching and making art for 45 years and have never found an easy solution to an art problem. To my thinking, making art is not easy or relaxing, but, when a piece finally works, it is a most exciting experience. One then moves on to the next piece. “

  8. I think this is similar to what elenaslc9 is saying. The sheer making of art is a kind, or a cause of, suffering. It is separate and apart from the emotional anguishes that we all share to more or lesser degree.

    Isn’t the process of doing art a suffering to get it “right”, whatever that is?

    Whether the artist must also suffer from those other emotional hangups may be another question altogether.

  9. I guess I have a different way of looking at the word suffer/art. I suffer when various pieces of art are inside me screaming to come out. They all want out at the same time so I often work on 2 to 4 simultaneously.
    I see each piece completed in my mind. If its a sculpture I can turn it around in my mind to see every angle. With paintings,
    collages, sketches, etc. I see them completed as well.

    When I’m in my small art studio I feel totally at peace, nothing
    else exists.

  10. I’m in my own world when I’m creating, I’m having fun and lose track of time. I can make social statements, turn things inside out. If I stall on a piece I simply put it aside for a few months or years.
    Most importantly I lose all my owm physical pain when I’ve left the here and now to reside for a while in a place without boundaries.

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