Issue #234 / April 2023
Marilyn Manson said in an interview:
‘I was in a drug rehab program once, but they kicked me out. That bored me to death. I asked the therapist if he could name a single artist who made more exciting art after rehab. He then sent me to a psychiatrist, who told me he didn’t treat artists, that was hopeless: they needed the ups and downs for their art, I should just make sure that I had more ups. It’s a constant struggle. Many great musicians, actors, painters or writers have suffered throughout their lives – and great art has emerged from their pain.’
What do you think about that? [ ]
CHRISTOPHER, MUNICH, GERMANY
My life is a mess. I am a drug addict now for fifteen years. I am worried about giving it up because I am an artist, a painter, and I don’t want to lose my edge. I can’t create without it.
THOM, BRISTOL, UK
Dear Christopher and Thom,
The idea that if you stop drinking or taking drugs then you stop making interesting art is a delusional claim. It is one routinely made by those who have not really experienced the full reach of life, that is to say those who have only really experienced the addicted life. If I correctly understand some of what Marilyn Manson is saying then I can tell you that in my younger, addicted days I most likely shared a similar view. I don’t know when Marilyn Manson said this, it could well be a quote from his younger days too. It certainly feels like it. What I myself did not understand at that time was that true suffering, or rather, meaningful suffering, only begins when we stop taking drugs. It is then that we are forced to live life on life’s terms, without the insulating effects of alcohol or drugs. We learn, in sobriety, our true and complex relationship to the world, and the profound nature of suffering. We also find, to our surprise, that happiness is possible as life broadens into something intricate and nuanced and interesting and strange, and potentially deeply creative. Life in sobriety becomes, as the greatly missed comic genius, Barry Humphries, once said, ‘funny’. The cossetted, flattened, self-obsessed life of the alcoholic or drug addict knows little of these things.
We often hear the grandiose presumption that the artist-addict experiences a kind of ‘holy ’suffering, that their struggle is special or somehow elevated beyond the ordinary heartache of the world. This is simply not the case and indicates little understanding of the nature of suffering or addiction or, indeed, art. The artist-addict, cocooned within their addiction, always has the validating recourse of their art, whilst the ordinary person, dealing with the hardships and devastations of life, must deal with raw existence simply as it comes. I find there is considerable courage, beauty and humanity in that common struggle.
Art is the agent best equipped to bring light to the world. That is its purpose. That is its promise. That it is predicated upon a unique suffering that is somehow linked to drink and drugs is self-serving, self-piteous nonsense. Don’t fall for it.