The myth of the self-destructive artist

Self-destructive artist

It’s the brooding self-destructive artist, who chainsmokes, binge-drinks and gets high on midnight parties, sleeps all day and somehow produces masterpieces out of sheer talent. You have seen it, in some form or shape, it’s portrayal in movies, tv shows, novels.

In modern day media, you don’t have to look very far or particularly hard to find this trope. It’s the artist who’s emotionally broken, complicated, unattached (but in search of plenty of muses), drinks all day and parties all night, can only produce creative work when high, misses regular meals, seldom works in the studio, saying that he/she is waiting for inspiration to strike.

What do all the portrayals of artists in media have in common? They romanticize the self-destructive artist who loses control of him/herself.

Perspiration vs Inspiration

If you’re sitting down staring at a blank canvas, wondering why you can’t create and how is it that inspiration hasn’t struck like lightning bolt in the middle of the day, you’re not alone. It doesn’t mean that you’re lacking talent or that you’re not made for this, it is simply an illusion that you must create only when you’re inspired.

Buy somehow, in the end, it was all justified. Because the artist then goes on to produce masterpieces and is highly successful and acclaimed.

Having a regular habit, schedule of work a basically just putting in the hours will get you far more than just waiting for inspiration. Sure, it’s important to keep your mind open and nourish it in every way you can, and leave downtime where you’re idling, allow your brain to make all sorts of connections. Then, when the ideas strikes, have something close by to write it down, so that you can develop and explore this idea further when you sit down to work.

The dangers of romanticizing the self-destructive artist.

I think it’s time that we come to terms and realize that this is all nonsense. It couldn’t be more far from the truth. It’s dangerous to hold onto this notion that being an artist means that you’re born with the talent and you just have to create when inspiration strikes. It means that if it doesn’t work out, then you automatically think that you’re a failure, because you’re not fulfilling that expectation.

Let’s suppose that you try out the “bohemian lifestyle” of the self-destructive artist, that we’ve all come to believe–at one point or another–to be the way an artist must be. You go to parties, drink and get high to loosen up and let the inspiration for your next masterpiece come. You sleep late, you miss meals and you spend the rest of the day hungover, malnourished and since the best sleep is achieved at night, even if you sleep 8 hours, you feel like crap. How would you sit down and create anything with a foggy mind, a body that is struggling to get rid of toxins?

You wont. And this will only feed into the vicious cycle until it becomes some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where you just sabotaged yourself.

The self-destructive artist thinks that talent alone will them through. The inspiration will hit and everything will be just fine. Well, And it’s a dangerous idea to entertain that it is only sheer talent that will get you through, but what about the effort, all those sketches you left behind to be here today, how many times did you hit undo on that line art?

Five realistic habits of artists.

Producing creative content is a job and career. It requires putting in the hours, regular schedules, routine. Sitting down to draw even if the inspiration isn’t there. Sometimes, you have put in hours in menial managerial tasks, learning new skills, networking and talking with clients.

Regular routine

Whether you’re working from home, a studio or office, it’s good to have a regular routine. Not just a defined schedule to work but also the small things. When you sit down to work, have cues that will signal your brain that it’s time get into creative work. Unlike the self-destructive artist, that engages in a lot of distractions, you find comfort on a regular routine and engage in your normal workflow whether inspiration hits or not.

I, for one, have a playlist of classical music that really gets me in the mood to create and practice, and it helps me get started in the days that I don’t particularly feel in the mood, because my brain has done this routine so many times, it knows what happens next.

Self care

Just as we take particular care with the tools of the trade, whether it’s taking care of your pencils, brushes and notebooks or taking care of your graphic tablet and PC parts, your body is the most important instrument and with regular self care, you will keep it running at optimal peak.

Eat clean, sleep well, have some leisure time, and exercise.

Nourish your creativity

Do activities that have nothing to do with drawing or sketching. Feed in your mental archives with images of subjects that you draw and expand your mental visual library. Sometimes I like to watch surgeries videos or leaf through anatomy books, it helps keep my mental library sharp. But not just that, I like to browse other artists that are on social media, without indulging too much, but certainly to see what they are doing and what their different approaches might be to a particular subject.


Every piece, every stroke, every delivery counts towards practice and making you a much better artist. Take a look at the pieces you produce now and the ones you used to make 2-3 years back? Can you find any difference? Can you think of a particular area or aspect that you struggled with back then that you no longer struggle with? Yeah, well that’s what practice makes, it’s silent but surely enough, it adds up over time. Never make the mistake of thinking that you’ve done enough and that you are above having practice sessions, you never know what you could be learning today.

A personal example of this was that a couple years back I had trouble choosing colors that worked well with one another, and after much practice and studying color theory and the color wheel, nowadays it’s a breeze to pick colors for shadows, midtones and highlights, I’m no longer feeling lost when the color picker stares back at me.


Despite the portrayals in media of the brooding artist that is alone in their studio for months on end and they don’t need nobody, that’s not a healthy way to live or nourish your creativity and skills. Network with fellow artists, even if they are outside of your field, there’s always something you can learn from them, ask questions and how they approach problems that might be overwhelming for you and suddenly it’s so clear and simple when you talk about it with someone else and they come up with a different perspective.

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