The Tortured vs. The Healthy Artist

As I sit in the fallout of tortured “geniuses” before me, I reflect on how we, in an effort to feel safe, separate our art from our daily living.
I watched the documentary, Salinger, on PBS’ American Masters. As an actor, I’m fascinated with human behavior. Salinger was – is – a writing phenom, but what interested me was how he wrote as opposed to what he wrote. Not long after Catcher in the Rye was published, he moved from Manhattan to Cornish, New Hampshire, an idyllic, sacred place “away from it all”. But unlike most writers, who use their sacred places with scheduled intent, he used it (and his windowless office) non-stop, and it became a place for him to hide. I see obvious parallels to this and the abuse of natural drugs. Originally intended as medicinal and sacred, plant based drugs are now used as modern day transports to “hiding places”.

There’s a false romance that plagues our arts. It is one that says we must be a “mess” in order to be a genius: Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Curt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour Hoffman – you get it. But, come on, we know that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be “normal” and still fulfill our art purpose. Yet still we continue to romanticize eccentricity bathed in the light of genius and fame. As with Salinger, we categorize his willful separation from his family (and his odd Lolita complex) as just a part of him being a genius, and turn our palms upward. What can you do? Something. I believe we can do something. I wondered, as I watched this documentary, if his work would have benefited from healthy relationships. Could he have created art without having to deny his daughter and wives the affection they so craved? Could being a good father, neighbor, teacher, or husband, have driven him to write even better works?
In the five main areas of life – career, relationships, health, finances and spirituality – artists tend to focus on only one: career. I want to pile all of these areas in the same car, and take a road trip through art. I imagine good health supporting my career. I imagine frequent, in-person contact with loved ones fueling my career. I can see a strong spiritual base inspiring my creativity, and a good financial flow that keeps me abundant in art supplies. Being a loner is considered cool. Being career driven at the expense of personal relationships is deemed admirable (unless you’re a woman). Being an outsider, being separate is considered synonymous with being a genius. It’s also synonymous with being a serial killer. We are not separate. We are not our art. Our art is simply an expression of who we are. And who we are is the sum of all of our parts.