Once, depressed and anxiety-ridden creatives like Sylvia Plath, Amy Winehouse and Edvard Munch delighted the world by turning their pain into art. Today, a new generation of artists is trying to recapture that unhappy magic and create art that inspires both suicidal thoughts and “likes” on Facebook.
The problems artists face in their struggle to struggle are daunting: the end of poverty, clean air and water, longer and healthier lives. But a small group of singers, painters, sculptors and writers in Florida are finding ways to reject the new utopia and experience tortured lives in the name of art.
Dustin Jingle, a singer/songwriter and member of Artists Seeking Suffering, or ASS, admits it’s not easy to make life hard these days.
‘R.E.M. was so lucky’
“With so many things that used to cause humanity anguish being obliterated, we have to work extra hard to find something to hate and struggle against,” says Jingle. “These days, if a lover leaves, we wish them well. Disease, mental illness, war and drug addiction are extinct. Black lives do matter. I mean, R.E.M. was so lucky when life sucked and everybody was hurting. Songs used to practically write themselves.”
For inspiration, Jingle and other artists are revisiting art forms that made their ancestors feel blue. They gather weekly to watch movies like Terms of Endearment, listen to Neil Young records and look at sad clown paintings. They say it’s helping.
“For the first time, I wrote a downtrodden poem,” Lorraine Soup said.
The poet, whose works include such beloved titles as “All’s Right with Rainbows” and “Puppy Belly,” said she recently participated in an ASS seminar to find a melancholy place from which to write.
In one exercise, Soup had to imagine being a woman who had to wait a long time for her food to come at a restaurant. “Of course, she got her food in the end, but the time she spent waiting would’ve been unbearable, you know? That people used to endure that kind of agony and still have the strength to get out of bed in the morning is remarkable,” Soup said. “I think the seminar helped me understand true suffering. I’m grateful.”
Now some ASS members are upping the ante. They openly discuss temporarily disabling their internal nanomedibots with the hope of experiencing a throbbing ear infection or an abscessed tooth. “It’s going to be great for our art,” says Jingle.