Saturday, July 15, 2006

The suicidal mind of the literary/visual/musical artist

Many writers have chosen to die by their own hand. It's a morbid topic, but it fascinates me. Let's see. We have the 18th-century English poet Thomas Chatterton, dead at 17 years old (he drank arsenic). There's Ernest Hemingway (whose granddaughter, actress Margaux Hemingway, also killed herself). Then we have the suicidal lady authors: Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Gertrude Bell, and Ingrid Jonker. Filipina poet and artist Maningning Miclat -- who garnered prizes galore for her artwork and her poetry (she wrote in Filipino, English, and Chinese) -- gone at 28 years old.

It's not just writers, either. Count people like van Gogh, Pascin and Diane Arbus among those in the visual arts field who committed suicide. Musicians? Kurt Cobain and Michael Hutchence are only two examples.

So what gives? I read somewhere that there's a link between creativity and the bipolar mind or manic depression (listen up, Tainted!), and that writers and other artists (visual and musical) are frequent sufferers of this condition. Their work often manifests their mood changes. But it seems that mental disorders are more obvious in some cases than in others. Look at van Gogh, for instance. The guy cut off part of his ear, for crying out loud! If that isn't crazy, I don't know what is.

A friend of mine, I'll call her Lush, has a theory. Lush is a great writer and a drinker as well. We were discussing suicidal artists a while back and she jokingly said that maybe the reason why creative people find comfort in drinking alcohol is that it helps them deal with the intensity of their emotions -- keeps them from going crazy and killing themselves.

What an idea! Think about what a kickass ad that would make: Creative people of the world, unite! Have a drink! It could save your life!


Anonymous said...

suicide is for people who can't hold their liquor.

-- lush

Lizza said...


You're being unfair. There are only several people I know who can outdrink me -- you're one of them. Not every one is as talented you, you know. :-)

Good to see you hear, btw.

Freedom Glutton said...

Well Lizza, here are two amazing posts... They give me ammunition to process... more stuff to think about :)

I read a biography of Virginia Wolfe and what I discovered might tie in with what Lush said, as well as provide an answer to your question. Virginia tried killing herself many times before she finally 'succeeded'. Her problem - her charactars used to be alive within her before she penned them down. Imagine, so many people living inside you, talking to you, talk to each other constantly. It helped her writing... but ... after a while she just couldnt take it anymore...

Also, why some people opt for suicide is cuz they can not deal with the fact that the 'end' is decided for them... you know what i mean?

Lizza said...


Yes, that would be maddening: to have "other people" constantly with you. That would be a nightmare -- no solitude at all, even in the privacy of your mind. I guess there's some truth to the saying that there's a fine line between genius and insanity then.

I get your point... so they make their own end to escape the one that's been decided for them, so to speak.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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