After writing a post at my blog about postmodern influences affecting literature–giving it a sense of angstiness, due to the relativity of truth–I ran across across a Psychology Today article asking the question: Is angst behind all great creativity?.
The article delves into the stereotype of mental illness in artists, and I’m not going to get hung up on that, as I’ve already written about that subject. It’s a depressing subject, to be honest. But I would like to answer the question of whether angst is behind all great creativity.
First of all, angst is defined as extreme anxiety or dread over the meaning of human existence. It’s a feeling that has undoubtedly plagued mankind for time immemorial. In a Christian worldview, this might be defined as man’s separated status from God that is corrected through Christ for those who choose to follow him. In modern times, as we’ve slipped deeply into the malaise of refusing to accept the notion of universal truth, we’ve naturally become more separated from God and, hence, more angst-ridden. This will affect artists, certainly, but it will also affect and influence anybody, from academics to scientists.
There is something different about artists, though. Isn’t there? Why are they compelled to create in a way that others aren’t? At the end of the Psychology Today article, the author highlights what’s missing from one artist’s technically masterful but unsuccessful drawings: soul rather than angst. But that’s a strange conceit. All humans have souls. Is an artist a person who can successfully depict the human soul in written or visual imagery? I would say, yes–the author of the article is onto something. I would also add that for art to be successful, it must truthfully depict the human soul.
How does an artist do that?
For a start, an artist must be honest about the state of humanity. It’s impossible to accurately depict the human soul if you can’t be honest about the way humans operate. That leads me right back to the beginning question. Is angst behind all great creativity? No, and I’ll explain why. Questioning our existence is normal. Depicting humans who question their existence is truthful. Yet operating off of dread because we can’t ever know what is true and not true doesn’t make for truthful art. There is no greatness to it because it can offer no conclusions. It is, at best, a reflection of fallen humanity and a harsh and unforgiving world.
To further muddy the waters, I’ll concede that an artist may be initially inspired by dread. They feel dread, which inspires them to understand the state of humanity to quell the anxiety, which can lead to honest depictions of humanity. Without ever landing on a universal notion of truth, however, the outcome is going to be hit or miss. For that reason, I would argue that the artistic drive is something that springs from a deeper place, one that already recognizes truth. The problem is with bridging the gap between what we know consciously and what we know subconsciously. To me, that is what the artistic drive is all about–building that bridge to what we already know is true.
Too often, dread prevents us from building that bridge because we may not like what we find on the other side. So, no. All great art isn’t inspired by angst. Ultimately, it’s inspired by truth.
photo credit: James Loesch via photopin cc