Suffering Spurred Their Genius

Manila Bulletin, November 9, 2007 | Go to article overview

Suffering Spurred Their Genius


For more than two centuries, it was the world's best-kept secret especially among the arts and cultural communities.

It was known only to a handful of persons, mainly their immediate families.

The mystery -- artists, novelists, and painters the world revered had suffered pain, anguish, and depression while creating and executing their magnum opus and piece de resistance.

Who were the agonizing maestros and virtuosos?

The New York Times weekend supplement of the Manila Bulletin last October 27, identified some of them in an article written by Randy Kennedy, as follows:

Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), in one fit of depression, said, "The more I am spent, ill, a broken pitcher. So much more am I an artist."

French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) likened himself to an artist who "exhausts all poisons in himself and keeps only their quintessences."

English novelist Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) called his younger years as a period of "moral torture." He is described in the feature story as having piled up miseries and misdeeds, marked by bankruptcy, depression, incarceration, agoraphobia (abnormal fear of being in open spaces), and infidelity.

Why were the adored lives, extolled by romantics, of these men of letters and masters wrapped in tragedy and sorrow? Experts in medieval and contemporary literature, and the arts in American academe' have some explanations:

Morris Dickstein, a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said pain endured by artists becomes a catalyst for creativity. In a way, they become more imaginative when experiencing and living in pain.

"People who have always had a happy life and lived on an even keel and haven't had a lot of misfortune really don't tend to be creative people," Dickstein says. …

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