Cause and Effect: Anatomy of a tortured genius

The topic for this post took shape in my mind on an unusually sunny fall sunday afternoon while drinking at my neighborhood establishment (I was eating also in case you think I am a drunk). Now I am neither tortured nor a genius by any stretch of imagination but I am uniquely qualified to comment on this topic solely by virtue of my like of a good pint in the afternoon. So here’s a teaser for you: If two events A and B happen simultaneously does it imply a causality between A and B or is there another event C that caused both A and B? I can give you millions of examples, ok maybe two or three, to illustrate my point. Obama became president (event A) and the economy slid into depression (event B), the two events were directly related to President Bush’s general incompetence (event C). The republicans will have you believe otherwise of course i.e A led to B. Pardon my blatant use of my blog to broadcast my political leanings (you will never hear a republican apologize for this by the way) but you are probably asking yourself what the hell has this got to do with price of tea in China? Allow me to expound. The concept of a tortured genius, one who abuses alcohol and all manners of drugs (event A) while still producing exquisite art (event B) fascinates us like no other (I am limiting my scope of inquiry here to artistic genius.) We tend to think of artistic creativity in a naively romantic fashion: all we need to do is go drink absinthe in one of the Parisian cafes frequented by Hemingway and voilà we can make the bells toll at our whim. Unfortunately or fortunately this is not the case as yours truly can attest to. So this is a case where A and B are in juxtaposition from our vantage points but if we try to do A in the hope of making B happen it ends in failure. Main exhibit: the multitude of so-called artists who are to be found dime a dozen in any watering hole. Now as any artist worth his/her salt will tell you, the realization of one’s creative expression comes after endless trials and failures and often involves painstaking discipline that’s hidden from the public eye. Now if A does not lead to B or vice versa what is the C that’s responsible for both A and B? In other words, the correct question to ask is what’s driving (C) the artist to drink (A)? And the answer has to be the force behind the artists’ creative output (B) as well. I believe the answer is excessive neurological activity or “too much thinking” in the artist’s head, which is not easy to control. Have you ever had a thought in your head that you struggled to give shape to? What if you had hundreds of these thoughts crisscrossing your brain? What do you do about that? You either find a way to express these jumble of thoughts which is what art is or it will drive you to drink or worse. In extreme cases you may need to do both. Use of alcohol or drugs helps in slowing down the activity in your nervous system in turn allowing you to channel your thoughts, thereby enabling the creative output that provides you relief.

Moral of the story: An artistic genius will most likely abuse mind altering substances but the said abuse does not an artistic genius make.


I realize that I maybe oversimplifying things a bit but I think I have captured the essence. Thoughts? Comments?



3 comments on “Cause and Effect: Anatomy of a tortured genius

  1. Interesting and bold theory!
    I wonder about a genius that is not tortured! Can he channel his thoughts to find relief in outputting art as ingenious as the lubricated one? Or are his thoughts just not as criss-crossed and ingenious in the first place? In other words are there even any untortured geniuses (genii to make my latin teacher happy)?

    Maybe geniuses are tortured and that their A can be quite different

    • ^ Incomplete post thanks to thick finger editing on tiny modern devices.

      Maybe all geniuses are tortured, but their (A) can be anything, or even become one with their (B). Or in other words the art itself becomes the lubrication not just the output of the artist!

      • One question along similar lines: can happy art ever be great art? All celeberated art seems to have been produced by tortured/unhappy souls. Russian literature is a prime example. I do believe that “great” art comes when an individual can wrench out a part of his/her soul and put it out for the world to see. We all have some darkness in us, maybe we need to confront that to produce what quailifies as great art. Why would a happy individual confront his/her demons?

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