Recently Nancy Baker posted to Anonymous Female Artist -- not so anonymous, definitely female -- about women, depression, and art. Someone (ml, whoever that is in this wonderful cacophony of aliases what be the Internet) wrote, "My attitude about depression changed when I read Rilke: Banish the demons, the angels flee as well."
For some reason this sticks with me. Because my immediate reaction -- which hasn't dimmed in the days since I read this and went looking for the original quote (I'll even take it in Deutsch) -- my immediate reaction was this: FUCK THE ANGELS. If depression is the price to pay for being creative, then I don't want it. I'd trade a normal life for this crap in a fucking HEARTBEAT.
I mean it. If the demons would leave, I'd tie the angels up in a little package for them to carry with them.
I don't happen to think mental instability of any kind -- depression, substance abuse, mania, any of it -- I don't think any mental disorders at all help art. Ask any real artist and I think they'll say having a brain which doesn't work right won't help you make anything worthwhile. Bill Maher recently asked Stephen King if his addictions didn't help make his writing better in some way: King's answer was negative. That crap gets in the way.
Beethoven wasn't crazy. He went deaf and lost contact with the world, his bowels made him suffer terribly, he became cranky as all hell -- but he wasn't crazy. He worked until the very end.
You know who was crazy? Henry Darger. He was stone cold nuts. His art ain't worth shit. Unless you, too, are schizophrenic squirrel bait, in which case his work probably speaks to you.
This isn't fun and games. This is like cholera. The end is never easy. Think of Jackson Pollock wrapping himself around a tree. Arshile Gorky hanging himself. Mark Rothko slashing himself to death. Van Gogh going out into the fields and shooting himself, then crawling home to spend three days dying. Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven. Ernest Hemingway with his gun in his mouth.
This isn't romantic. This isn't art. This is LIFE and this is DEATH.
But then I think, what are we saving ourselves for? It's not as if we get to snap the tape across our chest as we cross some finish line. We don't get a medal or a trophy. Are we saving ourselves so we can end up like Willem de Kooning, so demented we can't even remember what happened five minutes ago? Maybe we can go like Charles Mingus, with the cruel, crawling paralysis of ALS. Or in pieces like Ella Fitzgerald. We can wait until our prostate rises up to engulf us like Frank Zappa. We can be slowly crumpled and crushed like Renoir.
Because there's something waiting for its chance to devour you. And it will get that chance some day.
Demons. Angels. Bullshit.