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“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” ― Frida Kahlo

Category: Design

Majesty and Meekness | The Myth of the Tortured Artist


Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo

While writing my next article on the introduction of TEXTALYSERs in Australia (this is due to high mobile-phone related deaths on the road), I naturally gravitated towards tangents whenever possible (self-indulgent I know), which brought me to reference the ‘tortured artist‘ myth. I did a bit of a gooble (pronounced GOO-BELLED – the portmanteau of google and stumble… I’m not sure if it works as well out of my head as it did in *cheeky sigh of resign* I tried…

Perhaps goobling this article was meant to be? I think being a tortured artist, as I wrote in my interview with the renowned artist and loving father Gav Barbey; is a great sales pitch with potent ROI if governed by a steady sense of self and proportion.

Gav is a Painter, Film Maker, Sculptor, Fine Art Artist (he was trained at the prestigious NIDA) and a writer. “The ‘tortured artist’ thing adds to this drama – it’s a great sales pitch, isn’t it?” I have to agree, as an artist myself, it does concocts a mysterious and dangerous element to an otherwise romantic and established medium of presenting life as we know it with life as we wish to see it.

You can watch Gav’s enriching Tedx Talk here: How to draw like a child | Gav Barbey | TEDxUniMelb

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.58.48 PM

“These rituals around Artists are a bit funny.” I ask him if everyone is an artist; “This argument has been held in deep discussion since day dot. The word “art” has fucked everyone – art is decorative. Art is decorative to push an emotional understanding to the masses.” Gav maintains Picasso was just having fun, not reveling in his torturery but enjoying the freedom to move from style to style which is something we shun now. Pigeonholing is a key factor to the slow financial progress of the Artist. “This is what Picasso is saying: I want to experiment! He knew a lot of disciples and that translated as his best work.”

‘Tortured’ is a strong word… maybe we’re all ‘indecisive artists’,’confused’, ‘perplexed’, ‘vexed’ or just plain ‘not-happy-jan‘. Whatever you call yourself, the myth of the tortured artist is one of intrigue with many insights into the world of creativity and chaos.

I did not write this article. All credits go to Huffington Post + writer Christopher Zara.


The Myth of the Tortured Artist — and Why It’s Not a Myth

06/18/2012 03:46 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2012
  • Christopher Zara Media, Culture, and Arts Journalist
  • It’s always been my belief that all great art comes from pain. Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in emotional torment; Lennon and McCartney forged their creative partnership following the death of their respective mothers; Milton pennedParadise Lost after losing his wife, his daughter, and his eyesight. Such unremitting grief would send even the most grounded among us into a frenzied Xanax binge and associated fetal position, but these celebrated artists chose not to recoil in passive suffering. Instead, they turned their sorrow into something the world would cherish.


    The idea of the tortured artist has long been debated in our culture, but to me it always seemed a self-evident truth. Art is a reflection of humanity, and humanity’s greatest virtue is its ability to overcome adversity. Why shouldn’t that same adversity inspire our greatest art? In fact, it’s a topic that fascinates me so much, I wrote a book about it, aptly titled Tortured Artists, which takes an admiring yet irreverent look at the link between creative genius and personal adversity. Did you know that Picasso nearly died in an earthquake at the age of three? Or that Frankenstein was inspired by a volcanic eruption? Or that Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse as an act of revenge?


    Although my book approaches the subject matter in a fun way, it centers on a weighty idea: the idea that suffering does not happen in vain. Van Gogh may have suffered from anxiety, absinthe addiction, and debilitating seizures, but his suffering gave him insight, and that insight, in turn, gave the world a new kind of art called Post-Impressionism. Such poetic symmetry is enough to convince even the stodgiest fatalist that the universe is not as cold and random as we perceive it to be, which is why I’ve always found the notion of tortured artists so appealing.


    But not everyone shares my zeal. In fact, the more I speak about tortured artists at author events and in interviews, the more I realize what a polarizing topic it actually is. Some folks seem to consider the primary thesis in Tortured Artists — that pain is a requirement for producing great art — a biased assessment of the creative process.

    However, I never claimed that art cannot be produced without suffering, only that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good. Why? Because the central function of an artist is to convey an idea. That idea can be visceral or intellectual; it can be conveyed through a painting, a song, a poem, or a guy dancing around in a moose costume. The method doesn’t matter. Artists, both brilliant and hackneyed, create out of the same basic desire to communicate. But it’s we art lovers who invest our attention, our time, in their creations. Why should we invest in a work of art that was created without conflict, or struggle, or pain? Where is the challenge?


    Of course, I always knew there would be people who wouldn’t buy the tortured-artist concept, but what I find most surprising is that the people who are least likely to subscribe to the idea also happen to be artists themselves. Indeed, many creative types are simply fed up with what they see as a baseless falsehood perpetuated by romantic tales of Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out and Sylvia Plath putting her head in the oven. In a 2011 interview, the indie rocker Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame, called the concept of the tortured artist a “damaging mythology,” one that impeded his own battles with addiction, anxiety, and depression.


    And Tweedy is not alone in his hostility. In speaking publicly about tortured artists, I’ve been accused of suggesting that drug addicts are better off high and the mentally ill should not seek help, if only because such impediments, by my estimation, help them produce better art. But calling John Belushi one of the greatest comic performers of the 1970s is not the same as condoning his excessive drug use. Even if we ignore the fact that few performers were not on drugs in the 1970s, we needn’t see Belushi’s brutal addiction as having caused his talent. Rather, it was a symptom of the same insatiable void that drove his need to perform. You might say that void tortured Belushi; you might also say it’s what made him great.


    So why, then, are so many artists still turned off by the tortured-artist concept? For some, I suspect, it simply hits too close to home. Consider the wedge it creates between two fundamental desires: the desire to be happy versus the desire to produce great art. The stereotype of the tortured artist as a long-suffering creative genius suggests that those two states are mutually exclusive — and that’s an unsettling thought for anyone who practices a creative craft. But even those of us who don’t have the wherewithal to choose between happiness and being a great artist can take comfort in knowing that the former is within our grasp. Let’s leave the suffering to the geniuses. It’s what they do.

    Further reading:

    Scientists: The ‘Tortured Artist’ Is a Real Thing via Mental Floss


    (Silly) #Saturday


    *Artwork by Matt Blease

    Sound advice | Seth Godin


    “When creativity becomes a profession…

    It often stops being creative.

    Ad agencies are some of the most conservative organizations you’ll encounter. They’ve been so trained by fearful clients, they censor themselves regularly.

    Successful authors are pushed by concerned publishers to become more true to their genres.

    And the movie industry… well, it’s an industry first.


    This is why so many bestsellers are surprise bestsellers. In the words of William Goldman, no one knows anything. But, even though they don’t know, the industrial protocol demands that they act like they do. Shareholders hesitate to give bonuses to CEOs who say, “I don’t know, let’s try it.”

    If you want to be creative, truly creative, it might pay to avoid a job with the word ‘creative’ in it.”





    ThrowbackThursday | The Eye of Guy Bourdin

    I love Guy Bourdin. He is a fashion photographer and, dare I say it – a conceptual artist with the sensibility (and moxie) of a poet. I did not write this article. All rights go to The Business of Fashion. Enjoy #TBT



    On the occasion of “Guy Bourdin: Image Maker,” currently on view at London’s Somerset House, Colin McDowell remembers the enigmatic photographer who revolutionised fashion imagery.

    Mood Inspired By Pantone’s Marsala

    Marsala, Marsala… Mmmm…

    Eiseman Color Blog

    July 2, 2015

    I love this beautiful Marsala, Pantone Color of the Year collage, that my friend and colleague, Bridget Frizzie, created for Kehoe Designs.

    Pantone Color of the Year 2015BOND with LOGO

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful Marsala compilation with us.

    What are some of your favorite Marsala moments?

    View original post

    How to Become A Chanel Brand Ambassador

    If you want to be original… A Fashion Love Story

    Thought Catalog

    The duties of a Chanel Brand Ambassador include, but are not limited to, accepting copious amounts of free clothes, attending parties in obscure European coastal towns, and maintaining an Olsen Twin physique at all cost. It’s a sinecure post, to be sure, but an important one that separates the It Girls from the women and ensures that youth and pulchritude are duly rewarded, in accordance with the values of current society (I hear the MacArthur Grant application process is going to include a swimsuit portion next year).

    Seeing as It Girls must possess at least some sort of filmy skillset (DJ, muse, rock progeny, model/blogger, “editor-at-large”) and are elected by popular vote, the qualifications for becoming an CBA are much more codified, because in the end, you really will be getting paid to do nothing. Let’s take a look at the arduous process:

    1. After appearing at a sufficient number of…

    View original post 513 more words

    Pantone Adds 210 Shades to Color System


    Pantone has added 210 shades to its color palettes.

    The additions bring the total number to 2,310 in its color system. Pantone is an international trend-spotting intelligence firm focused on color selection for designers and colorists working in fashion, home and interiors.

    Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said, “The extension of our range, what we tried to do, is to make certain we incorporate for the people who use our system the direction [regarding the] needs in color based on what consumers tell us.”

    The last time there was an addition was nearly three years ago, with about the same number of additions. “The difference this time from last time is the idea of healthy colors. It speaks to food and how you cook, what you are using, as well as more of the exotica, such as colors that people are understanding better now, like the orange…

    View original post 300 more words

    Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed That Changes Blue #TBT

    The more things change, the more the stay the same… a colour story

    Eiseman Color Blog

    March 26, 2015
    Originally posted on May 17, 2010
    The world of multi-hued creatures never fails to amaze and amuse with its incessant and often clever usage of color. The Language of Color at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (a display that is no longer available for viewing) there were many examples of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and insects included, demonstrated and taught how certain specimens ward off danger, defy their predators and relentlessly attract the opposite sex.
    •Coral snakes advertise that they choose not to be eaten by wearing bright rings of color
    •Milk snakes adapt the same means of warning, even though they are not truly poisonous (but its a great way to get your enemies to think you are)!
    •Similarly many species of butterflies imitate their bad tasting relatives in their brilliant patterning of orange, yellow…

    View original post 327 more words

    An Artist’s Life, Sustained. (Spotlight on Gav Barbey + shameless work plug)


    Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.58.21 PM

    It’s 2 in the afternoon at the Signature Prints studio. I’m rummaging around for a camera to record my interview with the Artist in Residence – Gav Barbey. This is not the first time I’ve met the Melbourne born, Sydney based Multimedia Artist but this is the first time I have sat in front of him, awaiting approval to begin this talk. He smiles and strokes his beard. I breathe in and nod for him to begin.

    I think in ideas. A friend once told me that and I’ve never forgotten it.” Gav, eccentric with his statements as he is with his art, began his journey as a young dyslexic male in the 70’s. “I always will gravitate to the theatre – I think it’s where I do my best work. It’s all encompassing and a multitude of other disciples can reside there.”

    Gav has had a very colourful life, spending time overseas in countries such as America, South America and Africa.   With his work he is able to explore his creative expressions in the places novices may not find commercially appealing. He clearly states a loathing for the business end of the Art world; “I hate the revenue bit about the business. It has nothing to do with the expression. It’s societal where we’ve made money this wonderful fictitious thing – This artistic, creative ideal that rules us completely.” Gav’s hands are emotive and large, sprawling out towards the background of bespoke and luxury handmade textiles that the Signature Prints studio produces. It is a fitting place for an intimate conversation about Art as a lifestyle.

    It’s a tricky beast and a very old beast.” He pauses for a moment, “The Gallery is dead also.” He doesn’t seem to be fazed by such a glaring statement. I am though. “Society has lost touch with the Artist. Who are they? What do they believe in outside of their art and how does it relate to their work?” I smile in confused agreement. “Back in Picasso’s day everyone knew him personally and even Brett Whitley. It’s only recently this phenomenon of the ‘Agent’ has sprung. They were hiding the Artist away from the client.” Gav is a Picasso enthusiast, as demonstrated in the Drawing workshop he hosted earlier today and will again in the afternoon before the guests’ screen-print into colour and pattern madness.

    “The Government is now the third wheel in this equation. Where the Gallery used to be in the middle of the Artist and the Client, the Government is now taking on this role.” Philanthropic ventures is not something Australia, Gav finds (in comparison to America), is prone to.  “We are not equipped,” he stated, “to delegate the money towards Arts driven projects. “ Gav is a Painter, Film Maker, Sculptor, Fine Art Artist (he was trained at the prestigious NIDA) and a writer. “The ‘tortured artist’ thing adds to this drama – it’s a great sales pitch, isn’t it?” I have to agree, as an artist myself, it does concocts a mysterious and dangerous element to an otherwise romantic and established medium of presenting life as we know it with life as we wish to see it.

    Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.58.48 PM

    “These rituals around Artists are a bit funny.” I ask him if everyone is an artist; “This argument has been held in deep discussion since day dot. The word “art” has fucked everyone – art is decorative. Art is decorative to push an emotional understanding to the masses.” Gav maintains Picasso was just having fun, not revelling in his torturery but enjoying the freedom to move from style to style which is something we shun now. Pigeonholing is a key factor to the slow financial progress of the Artist. “This is what Picasso is saying: I want to experiment! He knew a lot of disciples and that translated as his best work.”

    Storytelling has a purpose. “Is making a rocket and sending it out to space, Art? It certainly is in my opinion. It’s about taking all these incredible creatively crafted understandings, disciples and expressions to basically put together one expression – which is man wanting to go up and explore.” I ask him who he’d love to collaborate with and immediately Andy Goldsworthy sings out of his lips. “I love his work being ephemeral and I love nature. He encapsulates that perfectly – The True Artist is ephemeral in nature.” This brings him back to his theatre roots. The constant exchange and collaboration.  “The viewer is the artist – I am the viewer.” Gav is very much reverent to the idea of Gifting. He sees this as acknowledging the created for the creation by the creator. “Creating the exchange is the key. The spirit of the piece is the tangible thing that will be curated and carried from person to person – it’s exciting!”

    We break for a moment, I frantically write the pertinent moments of this discussion. I must remember to explain his ease of vernacular. He is a master keynote speaker; unintentional, in a juggernaut sort of way, about his presence and modernity over his craft. His beard, as if a microphone, accentuates on a visual superficial level, his personal style. I must remember not to spin yarn about his clothing. An Artist must remain inconspicuous and subversive in order for their work to speak more than themselves.

    His final thoughts collectively approach the future of Art. “It’s a societal modem that ‘retail is everything.’ The market is dictating the masses and the masses are mystified. Art expands human consciousness and creativity. Can the human spirit survive? My work is constantly on the move – it has a didactic element to it which is not dictated by material.”

    I am seeing what needs to be seen, which, is really titbits of nothing... and everything. I guess that’s how I sustain my art, my work and my life.”





    Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 8.42.09 PM

    | Meet Gav Barbey | Cult Multimedia Artist. Resident cool cat. Picasso, Rodin, Le Corbusier, Goudy, Henry Moore lover.

    This article is written by Margretta Sowah; a freelance writer and Fashion Marketer based in Sydney. All opinions expressed are her own. She cannot be held liable for bad taste.  She also likes to spin yarn from time to time.

    Tory Burch Beauty (Bohemia Extremia)


    Tory Burch is one of my favourite designers for many reasons. The ultra-luxe ethos of the bohemian spirit sings to my philosophical and spiritual core and inclination. Her Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear was, you could say, a play on passions. I loved the Marrakesh mentality of a land infused with colour and culture. In the world of Luxury and High-End Fashion Brands there is room for the imagination – to place yourself in the shoes of that woman, with that plan and that style. It is a collision of the brave and the bold. Poetry, I find, is much the same. Who is this person you speak so kindly of? What story did they imprint on your psyche to illicit such visceral and vivid recollection of a time past by – or perhaps not yet reached.



    This collection blossomed with a lush colour palette; Marsala shades (Official Pantone Colour of the Year 2015), embroidered mastery and rich fabrics. The scene was set for romantic nights in Morocco with a lover (or two!); strolling in the Saadian Tombs with girlfriends, reminiscing the release of an old love. These memories keep us reverent, restoring wonder in our eyes and fire in our hearts.

    This is what fashion does. This is what poems do. This is art. This is design. This is love.

    Bohemia Extremia


    I don’t need a


    Solution to



    Of spectators

    and fabricators.


    Frenzied (with) preoccupations

    That blind from

    Savannah nights.

    The sweat is still trickling and the

    Pan is still round –

    Rooted in

    Ancient dances –

                                                    (Spirit fancies) 

    Fawning from one meaning

    To the next. Extreme is not

    For those unaccustomed to the

    Evolution of the senses.

    Will you

    Want to see it


    Screaming for air –

    Standing in

    Its own

                                                (Bohemia Extremia)