It really is perversely appealing to think about the tortured artist, the one who is either tragically ill or without heat in a northern winter, mentally ill or sleeping with a large bottle of bourbon.
Reading AL Kennedy’s column in the Guardian (I am a devoted follower of AL Kennedy’s blog, though unfortunately it’s a stronger devotion than to her fiction), I want to laugh at the idea of the tortured artist and our glorification of it.
Instead, I tend to think a lot of artists are, if not tortured, more sensitive to the forces which can make you a little, well, moody. Which often feels like torture, because setting up shop in your head might be a short commute but it can be a dicy neighborhood.
Recently, I read Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, in which she managed to portray the life of struggling, passionate artists, or at least the life that she and Robert Mapplethorpe found themselves, as both unpleasant and extremely glamorous. I found myself wishing that I lived in an unheated, rat-infested Chelsea building. It was a tremendous book, mostly because she managed to portray that life with both the discomfort and an almost visceral feel of the passions that drove them. One can’t help but feel that if they were living middle-class existences, they never would have created the art that they did.