Monday, 4 August 2008

Artwork Mondays: Inspiration + Drugs

So here's the thing.

While in University, and continuing to today, I'll show somebody examples of my work for the first time, and I will hear, "Whoa, so just what are you on, man? Must be some good s--t!"

Yeah, the good s--t is my brain. My creativity. My diverse range of interest and my hard-won madskillz with a pencil. My brain dwarfs other brains. And I can tell you why.

I've been attempting to write this post for a long time now. It's a hard one to write without sounding smug and preachy or after-school-special. So I'm just throwing it out there in plain language and not worrying too much about it.

I don't drink alcoholic beverages, and I don't do recreational drugs, and I follow no religion. Period. Never have, and likely won't. Over the course of an entire year, I maybe polish off one glass of wine divided up over New Year's, a random evening and my wedding anniversary. I should probably drink a bit of wine for the health effects. Keep meaning to do that.

Let me cut off some common assumptions at this point: I really really don't care if other people drink alcohol. It is not something I do, but I am not passing some kind of moral judgement on people either. In a free and open society, I am free to not drink and think you're cool. No need to explain to me how it's really good I don't drink, and you admire it, or to accuse me of accusing you of wrongdoing. Telling me my coffee-drinking is "at least something, kind of wimpy, but something," makes me laugh.

I don't drink or do drugs for a bunch of reasons, but here's one of the largest. As I emerged like a delicate, lumbering butterfly into my University years, I was asked "what I was into" more and more. And in my first year survey course of Western Art, we began talking about Hieronymous Bosch. Bosch did fascinating things, unreal visions of heaven and hell with the most unlikely structures made from the tools of alchemy. And a theory we were presented with, very popular and assumed to be true by my peers, was that ergot of rye in the fields near the artist were causing Bosch to experience the effects of very mild LSD.

Everyone nodded. Of course. It was instantly assumed this is where his genius and creativity stemmed from.

It was an outrage! An outrage because what if it wasn't ergot of rye? A great disservice to a great mind. It was an outrage because in my view, it smacked of complacency by my fellow art students. Wanna push your art further? Drugs. Worked for Bosch.

If it was true, than my mind would be unremarkable without intentional damage inflicted upon myself. No thanks. I needed to hold fast against the weak undercurrent of peer pressure and create fantastic, unreal images in the face of pure sobriety.

I'm not the next Hieronymous Bosch. I'm doing what I do. My body suffers from asthma, and I have some medications I take regularly, daily, along with a love for coffee. Throwing more into the mix will not help. One day, will someone cite my puffers as the source of my creativity? I hope it is not the case.

And I spoke above of my thoughts on alcohol, how do I feel about drugs?

I think they are kind of lame. (There I go, sounding like an after-school special.) I am especially weary of marijuana. It is so present and so popular now, you can't escape it at parties. And users always want to tell me all the scientific facts they know, about how it's no worse than alcohol, they only use it sometimes to fall asleep, I've studied it way more than you, blah blah blah. You know why it bugs me? Because alcohol stays in your glass and on your breath, but marijuana goes into everyone's lungs. Smoking marijuana is lame and selfish.

I am writing this post not to judge others, but to judge myself. Perhaps it is not an achievement to be visually creative without drugs, and this is seen as nothing more than a fearful person stamping their foot saying "I don't wanna". In my view, my brain dwarfs many other brains. My synapses are intact, my dendrites and neurons hum happily. This creativity is mine, and not the product of liquid or inhaled inspiration.

I'll reiterate, I really don't judge others by what substances they use for fun. Friends say I'm fun at parties. I simply get cross when someone gets pushy or insulting by wondering what drugs/alcohol/religion I am on, and won't believe I can live without those things.

Please feel free to disagree on this touchy topic, and make comments. I am away from the internet while on vacation, and will respond when I return.

Oh, and cheers!

This week I am re-posting a few pieces previously posted due to the topic. In order, these pieces are entitled, from the top, Anthropomorphic Gestation, Knowledge Pupates, & Asthma Incubus.

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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.


Unknown said...

I'm with you on drug and alcohol free. I drink, but spread out over a year maybe enough to get drunk only a few times. I used to drink heavily, but I got tired of being irresponsible and wasting money. With drugs, I never even tried them because I didn't want to rewire my brain to be happy only for chemicals. However many "studies" pot smokers will claim they know about, it's really only excuses to smoke guilt free. If you really look at the studies then you will see that habitual smoking of mj will damage your mind. Why would you intentionally do that?

Anonymous said...

Writers have some similar lore, namely, the hard-drinking writer who needs his alcohol for inspiration. You're right, it's insulting to the creative process that so many of us work so hard to foster... and really insulting to bona fide geniuses like Bosch. People made similar claims about Salvador Dali, and while he supposedly dropped acid once out of curiosity his conclusion was, "Why do you need LSD when you have Dali?" Why indeed? :) It was NOT the source of his creativity.

The people you describe touting the Gospel of drug use are just being defensive and looking for approval for their choices -- hence their need to rationalize it with "science." A party guest once harangued me for a full 30 minutes about the benefits of LSD and how "judgmental" I was being by not choosing to indulge. Like you, I don't CARE if people do drugs (although I invariably find them far less interesting when they're high), but I should have the same freedom to decline without being labeled a judgmental prude. For some, though, anything short of full acceptance and admiration for their "daring" constitutes a judgment. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Whatta post! WHATTA POST! I was always fighting this with my music history students back in the day -- the feeling that Mozart must have been channeling God, or that absinthe fueled this or that poet or painter or candlestick maker. It diminishes the human mind to suggest that we must be transported out of it to do great and creative things.

Zachary Miller said...

Yeah, the drug-genious connection is outlandish, used by lesser minds to feel better about themselves. "He couldn't do it without the drugs." He probably could. How scary is that? Having CF, I do PLENTY of drugs, but none of them recreationally, and I don't think any of them affect me or my mood(s). Everyone tells me I'm even-tempered, so I must be doing (taking) something right.

Drugs and alcohol are mysteries to me because these are not healthy things. Neither is smoking. The sheer idiocy (my opinion only) of voluntarily doing something unhealthy just does not compute. I have friends who DO routinely get drunk on weekends, and they enjoy being around other people who get drunk on weekends. I don't try to be some great moral authority to them or judge them. But every once and awhile, when one of them says something like "we had a great conversation. I don't remember the conversation, only that we had it." I begin to wonder what possible benefit the drinks have.

Humble said...

You know what bugs me? The creativity=unhappiness folklore. That living joyfully is incompatible with being a writer/artist/highly creative type, that suffering is the fuel of great art. Drives me nuts. Uh oh now I'm suffering just thinking about it. Hang on, gotta go write down an idea...

Glendon Mellow said...

(I'm back and happily tanned from swimming in a lake.)

It's great to know I'm not the only one frustrated by this. Thanks to everyone for their responses.

Eric - I agree, there's plenty to show that mj will harm your mind. That's everyone's choice, I just wish it didn't float in the air at parties.

Jennifer - Great Dali story. I tried really hard to write this post many times, because I don't want to be seen as judgemental of other people's behaviours. Some of my closest friends and colleagues make choices that differe from mine, and it's cool. However, as you say, they "judgemental prude" label often rears its head just by politely declining the offer of drugs or alcohol.

Dale - thanks! I've had that feeling of euphoria when painting a couple of times - everything is going right, it almost feels like some mysterious hand is guiding you. Upon reflection, it just becomes another example of confirmation bias, I think ;-)

Zach - have you read Neal Stephenson's Zodiac? Sangamon's Principle. I put enough in my lungs already, I'm with you there, man.

FRK - on the flipside, I remember a university prof asking why we were all creating paintings of such depressing ideas and aesthetics. I believe the reponse from a couple of us was, "because we don't have tenure, we're drowning in debt and as twenty-somethings most of us are sleep-deprived and facing an uncerttain future?"

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for the comments so far. If others wish to weigh in and disagree with the status quo stacking up here in the comments, please feel free.

This post is where I'm coming from. Others may draw different conclusions about where their inspirations do or do not come from.

Jeffrey Hayes said...

Right. My take: any decent artist works well in spite of whatever handicaps they happen to have, not because of them.

Hemingway might have occassionally been a gutter drunk, but most gutter drunks aren't Hemingways...

Behavioral minefield aside, the drawings are terrific. I just love the deep imaginative vein that bosch/brueghel/grunewald/etc tapped into. Glad to see that tradition alive and well.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for your comment, Jeff. It's a good point. The skill comes from the person's mind more often than not, coupled with a bit of happy accident, and some hard work honing their skills.

When some people dismiss all that as wondering what substances were taken to get there, it's exasperating.

I love Gruenwald too, by the way.

This was a difficult post for me to write. I'm glad I did, since I've already learned to look at the issue differently from each comment so far.

Anonymous said...

I hate to tow the line here, but I'm gonna have to go ahead and agree with everything everyone has said up to this point.

I've never done drugs, and never plan to, besides caffeine, that is. As for alcohal, I do enjoy a beer every once in a while, but in moderation, and not for the purpose of getting drunk.

I can come up with random comic ideas without the aid of drugs and alcohal, thank you very much!

Glendon Mellow said...

It's so entrenched as being part of the mystique of art. Images with the exactitude you're capable of would have to be a steady hand, I'd think.

Charley Parker at Lines and Colors mentions some people thinking depression being a possible reason for Archimboldo's genius.

Mr. Parker seems to disagree.

Artifact said...

Some people manage to be creative with drugs, while other people (such as yourself) are clearly very powerfully creative without taking any drugs or alcohol. That seems to be fairly good evidence that there is no real link between drugs and creativity. All it takes to make something creative is an idea and a pencil. What is most important is that people can keep an open mind, and respect the differences between individuals, whether those individuals choose to partake in substances or stay clean from them... you seem to do just fine at that. I found your commentary on this subject interesting and insightful.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Artifact!

I get it so often, it felt important to make sure the healthy artist gets their say. Creativity goes way beyond substance abuse.

Thanks for checking it out.

Anonymous said...

Haha. Wow... Dude, your so stupid. That doesn't even begin to make sense. It's not good to rely on drugs for creativity, but they are creativity boosters. Even with your talent you have now, LSD would enhance it. Whether you think so or not. You're kinda lame, no offense.

Glendon Mellow said...

Anonymous: wow. You called me lame and said "no offense". I feel utterly dismissed by your drive-by comment.

I don't doubt LSD would make me more creative in some ways, but the point of this post is that being creative means you don't need it.

And how exactly am I stupid, may I ask? You have a spelling mistake in the sentence where you call me stupid. Lame.

Thinking Chimp said...

I think you can create with or without drugs, but I find the better 'created stuff' is usually without, and usually enjoyed more by those with.

Glendon Mellow said...

A pithy observation, Thinking Chimp!

I would still contend you can enjoy things clean.

thegreyowl said...

yeah i agree, sure you can create stuff whilst off your face, but i think that i would feel more accomplished knowing that i created something, from my heart and sober ideas, rather than some plants or chemicals i love how you used the letter 'Z' in the word skills :)

Thinking Chimp said...

I would agree, you can enjoy things 'clean', as you put it. But I don't think this is necessarily better or worse, just in a different way. However, having been both 'clean' and, I suppose, 'unclean' and appreciating creativity I would say that an 'unclean' person's perception is that they are enjoying it more, maybe because you find yourself looking deeper into the work due to heightened concentration (which is also required much more deeply than when 'unclean' mainly for standing up and such other basic motor skills) and because it takes your brain slightly longer to reach your own conclusion it therefore seems you have learned something quite profound, which maybe something that you may or may not have learned had you been 'clean'.

If that makes sense (yes, I am 'clean' at the moment of writing)


Mattydigs said...

In response to ones comment about non-drug induced art/music being the best---What about these---Brian Wilson - Smile, All of the Beatles best output,anything jimi hendrix ever did (though he did go overboard with everything), Pink Floyd (debatable) , The Doors output,The Grateful dead.... the list goes on. All these bands were the best at what they did. BTW I'm well into Salvidor Dali and if you read his writings it's obvious he was perma-tripping or at the very least had regular hallucinatory events. No drugs of course but it was his 'normal' consciousness. He even admits that Gala brought him back from the brink of utter madness. I believe that's why he said I am LSD. Because he really was. He was essentially on LSD all the time but it was just his own state of mind. As far as I know he never actually did it (in fact he ridiculed fellow artists that took mescaline for inspiration) but may have on rare occasion imbibed hashish.

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Mattydigs, thanks for the comment.

I agree that good and excellent music can be created while under the influence, but as Jeff Hayes said in the comments above, "Hemingway might have occassionally been a gutter drunk, but most gutter drunks aren't Hemingways..."

I think (17 months later) I still stand by the idea that too many people rely on explaining creativity as being linked to chemical crutches to be of any worth.

I understand seeing hallucinations and lowering inhibitions may produce interesting images out of people, but to me it seems like doping the athlete.

Anonymous said...

I want to know , what the second picture means ? Like what made you thought of drawing this picture ? Like the purpose ? Was it because of marijuana ? Drinking ? I would really like to know Because that picture really is an inspiration .

Glendon Mellow said...

Hardy har har, Anonymous.

CMDoran said...

Well said Glendon! I hope our kids can follow the thought that it comes from their brains...not an outside source! Thanks for writing

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks, C.M.!

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