RESEARCH SCOPE PAPER on the creative ARTEFACt: this is not a lie
"When we buy into clichés and archetypes we numb ourselves against the realities as they're unfolding around us. By allowing a pained creative to melt into a thousand familiar images and assumptions we not only let down the individual, but we weaken the creative community in general.
~ Wendy Syfret, I-D Fashion
As a creative writer, I am fascinated by the concept of the ‘tortured soul’, in particular the ‘tortured artist’. I am moved by highly creative and intelligent people who are hell-bent on self-destruction. It is a motif that runs throughout much of my creative work, including the novel that is the subject of this scoping document. The idea of creative talent and tortured mind being sides of the same coin has long been debated. In a conversation with Socrates, fifth century philosopher Plato contends that the Muses must inflict poets with a divine madness and argues that passionate people must be tightly controlled, if not actually banned from his imagined ‘ideal state’ because art and literature prod at people’s emotions with a force so powerful that it could actually cause harm [Bates, 2015].
These days, the tortured artist is a stock character in literature and motion picture films. The ‘tortured rock star’ is only the most recent incarnation of the troubled artist catalogue. Tortured artist characters are often portrayed as either extraverted and narcissistic, or introverted and self-loathing. They are aggrieved by their emotions and inner turmoil, they feel alienated and misunderstood, and they are disappointed by those who don’t support them. They are often portrayed as ideating suicide, engaging in substance abuse or self-mutilation, and as suffering from mental illness and/or depression. Their defining characteristic is that they are in constant torment due to frustrations with their art and/or with other people [Wikipedia, 2016]. These are the character’s tropes. These are traits that audiences expect to see in the tortured artist character. But then, nobody likes a cliché. And some, as the opening quote of this paper suggests, believe that archetypal characters and clichés undermine the value of the creative community. With that in mind, the question I am seeking to answer is: How do I create a tortured artist character who is more than a cliché and who doesn’t weaken the creative community?
In the early 1980s, I had an on/off relationship with a man who was the first-born son of immigrant parents. Struggling to fit in, and with the weight of his immigrant parents’ expectations weighing heavily on his shoulders, it wasn’t long before he found solace in hard drugs. It was during one of our ‘off’ times that I met and fell in love with another man who was a closet homosexual. For years, he was forced to hide his sexual identity from family and friends and he eventually developed an emotional dependency on a range of illegal substances. When he finally did reveal his true self, he was spurned by his family and bashed, raped, and hospitalised by unrepentant bigots. The way society viewed these men was brutal. Both were generally considered with disdain, mistrust, and oftentimes outright hatred.
These two men, as well as others with comparable stories, are the inspiration for the ‘tortured artist’ protagonist in my novel. Using this archetypal character, it is my intention to show that there is always a reason for self-destructive behaviour, even if it’s not apparent. Set in 1984, in the bohemian suburb of St Kilda, the narrative centres on the young guitar player of an up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll band. A high-functioning heroin addict, he is also a closet homosexual, is desperately lonely, and dangerously self-destructive.
Research into how tortured characters are portrayed in literature and other creative media has been helpful in terms of realising how I might develop an original character suitable for a local setting, and that isn’t just a cookie-cutter version of the tortured artist characters that have come before. Using the bricolage methodology of practice-led research and a postmodern approach to interpreting data, heuristic devices that best suit the project include sociology, psychology, LGBTIQ, case studies, autoethnography and neonarrative.
The Australian motion picture Shine is based on the life of David Helfgott, a gifted pianist who was eventually institutionalised due to schizoaffective disorder. In the film, Helfgott’s character is portrayed as a jabbering, chain smoking, and an increasingly erratic musical genius who is not only mentally ill, but who is a victim of his father’s tyranny [Buckmaster, 2013]. In the Australian novel Candy, by author Luke Davies, the protagonist falls in love with an aspiring painter who becomes a heroin addict—just like him. The protagonist is depicted as a sensitive but ultimately directionless character; however, the narrative fails to explore the reason for his addiction. Davies has stated that the novel is based on his experiences as a heroin addict in the 1980s, but that the novel is ‘fiction rather than memoir’ [Wikipedia, 2017]. Dogs in Space, an original film written and directed by Richard Lowenstein, was set in 1978 during Melbourne’s post-punk era. While the narrative is essentially plotless, the drama is centred on a share house populated by social misfits including the lead singer of the band Dogs in Space. He is characterised as always being high on narcotic substances and is a strange, erratic and unpredictable presence in the house [Buckmaster, 2014]. As with Candy, no meaningful reason, no reason at all, is given for his drug habit.
Other sources include the biographies and autobiographies of real and well-known ‘tortured rock stars’ including I am the Voice Left from Drinking by James Freud, bass player for The Models, who was both a heroin addict and an alcoholic. Despite being a casualty of his step-father’s violence, Freud tells his story with a compelling mix of pathos and humour. Sadly, Freud committed suicide in 2010. In Hard Road: The Life and Times of Stevie Wright, biographer Glenn Goldsmith portrays vocalist Stevie Wright as headstrong, street smart, and a born performer. Wright was, of course, the lead singer of the legendary Australian band The Easybeats and was hailed as Australia’s first true international rock star. After The Easybeats, Wright got a gig performing in the first Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Wright was spellbound by the image of the production’s strung-out keyboard player hunched over a piano playing the most beautiful piece of music he’d ever heard, and in that single fateful moment, Wright decided that heroin was something that he wanted to try. It was a decision that destroyed his career and almost cost him his life [Milesagao, n.d.].
From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, Melbourne was awash with illegal drugs. Heroin, speed, Mandrax, marijuana—whatever your poison, it was cheap, abundant, and easy to obtain, especially in St Kilda. It was part of the cultural scene. Bikers got blowjobs from transvestites at the Espy (The Esplanade Hotel). Petty criminals drank at the George (Hotel). Hardened criminals drank at the Snakepit [Valentish, 2014]. The Ballroom; The Melbourne Punk and Post-Punk Scene, a memoir by Delores San Miguel, talent booker for The Ballroom, offers insight into St Kilda’s Zeitgeist and references many of the bands that were active at the time.
Robert Waldinger is director of the seventy-five-year long Harvard Study of Adult Development. It’s one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history and continues to this day. When it began, the study aimed to discover how people can live long and be happy. Over seventy-five years, researchers have learned that social connections are good, and that loneliness kills. It is possible to be lonely in a crowd, and people who are more isolated than they want to be die sooner than those who are socially active. The findings of the study prove that it’s not the number of relationships that count, it’s the quality of them. Good relationships are the things that keep us happy and healthy [Waldinger, 2015].
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed creative genius to be a sign of neurosis (particularly bipolar disorder) and that the condition is spawned as a result of early childhood experiences. Recent studies lend validity to this theory. In 1989, Dr Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted the ‘Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament’ study which revealed that bipolar disorder and chronic depression is ten to thirty times more prevalent in artists and creatives than it is in the population at large [Zara, 2012]. Dr James Kaufman, a psychologist and creative researcher at California State University says the idea of the tortured artist has created a kind of dogma and that even though the perception of artistic worth and madness of the mind has bearings in reality, it has become stereotyped and idealised, so much so, that some healthy artists feel compelled to mimic mental illness [Schexnayder, 2012].
Highly creative people are able to think in uncommonly imaginative ways. They are able to associate ideas that most of us are unable to see and make unusual and uncommon connections, much like schizophrenics. A recent study undertaken by Professor Fredrik Ullén at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Women’s and Children’s Health found that healthy and highly creative individuals had a similar dopamine system to those who suffered schizophrenia. Other studies have shown a link between above-average amounts of dopamine D2 receptors and divergent thought, which could explain the connection between creatives and mental illness [ibid].
What about the connection between the tortured artist and drug addiction, specifically heroin addiction? Ever since the US and British governments declared their war on drugs (over one hundred years ago) society has punished addicts for being morally flawed or for lacking the willpower to abstain. In the decades since that declaration, science has proved that neither a lack of morals nor a lack of willpower is to blame for the condition of addiction.
When people think of heroin addiction they often think of wretched down-and-outers who have sold their soul in order to get high. There is no denying that addiction does lead some to wretchedness; however, it is hardly the whole story. Australia has had a long affair with heroin. It’s alleged that by 1936 Australians had consumed more heroin per capita than any other country in the world [Denborough, n.d.]. Now, in the twenty-tens, our country’s suburbs are full of thirty and forty-year-olds who manage to hold a job, pay their rent, pay their taxes, raise a family, and use heroin daily. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. In 1985, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke revealed his daughter Rosslyn was a heroin addict [D’Alpuget, 2010]. The reality is that everyone is different, and not everyone who suffers from addiction turns to crime.
Governments have gone to great lengths to prove that drugs chemically ‘hook’ into our brain, which in turn causes our body to become physically and psychologically dependent on it. But what about people who are addicted to gambling or sex or adrenalin? There are no chemical hooks involved in those addictions, yet there’s no denying they are just as destructive as a drug addict’s addiction. Despite common belief, one taste of heroin does not make a person a heroin addict. Hospital patients who are given morphine for pain relief rarely, if ever, become addicts.
Acknowledging the role dopamine plays in addiction, David Linden from Johns Hopkins University says that genetics accounts for around forty percent of the equation when determining who is likely to become an addict. People don’t become addicts because they feel ‘pleasure strongly’. Rather, they are ‘people who are not feeling pleasure and are using substances to try to achieve it’. He believes this pleasure seeking is a compulsive risk-taking venture and that it could also be a ‘launching point’ for creativity [JourneyPure, 2016]. People blame drugs for most of society's problems; however, evidence is proving that society is to blame for users’ problems. Every user has their own motivation for starting; curiosity, yearning for comfort, boredom, or even the romance surrounding it. Many addicts use heroin because it is a pain killer. When your own mind is torturing you, when you are experiencing chronic unhappiness, meaninglessness, or loneliness, opium’s rush provides relief [Hari, 2017].
In his book Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs, Andrew McMillen interviews several successful Australian musicians including Paul Kelly and Steve Kilbey, who admit that their use of illegal drugs, including substances as varied as marijuana, MDMA, methamphetamine, and heroin, has had a positive impact on their songwriting. Steve Kilbey admitted that The Church’s 1992 album Priest=Aura was ‘an attempt to recreate the feeling of heroin through music’.
As well as being a high-functioning heroin addict, my protagonist is a closet homosexual. In Australia in the early 1980s, homosexuality was not widely accepted, especially in the middle-class suburbs. Thirty years later, society’s view on same sex relationships has changed despite same sex couples still being denied the opportunity to marry legally. In 1949, the punishment for sodomy in Victoria was the death penalty [ABC News, 2015]. In the 1970s, university students rallied for gay pride [Australian Women’s History Network]. However, it wasn’t until 1980 that male homosexuality was finally decriminalised [ABC News, 2015]. While this was a significant step forward, homosexuality was still a relatively foreign concept in many sections of Victoria’s population.
In the 1980s, Australia was still a relatively conservative country. LGBTIQ was maligned in the media, and by society in general. In Melbourne, ‘poofter bashing’ was a sport. Gay men were excluded from family events because children would be present, and gay women lived in fear of having heterosexuality raped into them [reddit]. In 1981, a gay newspaper called the Sydney Star published an article titled ‘New Pneumonia Linked to Gay Lifestyle’. AIDS, the gay cancer, had been identified in the United States. In 1982, the first AIDS case in Australia was identified in an American tourist. Six months later, the first Australian citizen, a Melbourne man, was diagnosed with the disease [Under the Red Ribbon] and suddenly there was a new reason to hate people in the gay community.
The idea for this project came when I reconnected with a friend whom I had not seen in almost fifteen years. She knew my addicted man and she knew my homosexual man; for a while we were a close-knit group supporting each other as we navigated and dealt with our parents’ failures and/or indifference towards us. As my friend and I reminisced over photos taken in our youth, I asked her a simple question: ‘Why do you think [name withheld] started shooting heroin?’ Her reply was equally simple: ‘He was lost’. Those three simple words, were enough to spark this creative journey.
Using mixed methods and a postmodern approach, my research began by retrieving old letters and cards from family and friends from storage. Reading them sparked memories that were both joyful and painful.
"Usually written in first-person voice, autoethnographic texts appear in a variety of forms – short stories, poetry, fiction, novels, photographic essays, personal essays, journals, fragmented and layered writing, and social science prose. In these texts, concrete action, dialogue, emotion, embodiment, spirituality, and self-consciousness are featured, appearing as relational and institutional stories affected by history, social structure, and culture, which themselves are dialectically revealed through action, feeling, thought, and language.
~ Ellis & Bochner (cited by A. Miller)
My own experiences serve as the foundation for the novel’s protagonist. However, as I began developing my tortured artist character, I realised that there were many knowledge gaps that needed to be filled. Memory is rarely reliable; the way we remember people and events from our past is rarely the way it really was.
Memories of feelings and experiences will be stimulated and supported by personal documents including letters and cards from family and friends, love letters, and photographs, band flyers, handbills, newspaper cuttings, and original song lyrics scribbled on loose leaf paper.
Coalescing autobiography, sociology, creative writing, and academic writing allows me to critically examine the stories, assumptions, values, habits, and emotions that I bring to my research, as well as to the creation of the artefact. The act of deconstructing and re-constructing personal identity and writerly practices immerses me in the knowledge of the research topic as well as the subject of self.
"The neonarrative approach is guided by narratology, the study of stories. This is a qualitative method that offers an interpretive reconstruction of an aspect of a person’s life. The resulting neonarrative is concerned with developing a plausible meaning-giving account that blends the personal histories of the people concerned with the social histories of their field. This is a process that theorises praxis (practice, as distinguished from theory, application or use, as of knowledge or skills).
~ Barret & Bolt, Practice as Research
Neonarrative method allows me to explore links between lived individual experiences, and cultural, political and social phenomena. Interpretations drawn from supporting stories by published authors add meaning and context to the social and cultural issues at the heart of my narrative.
While primary research into the development of my tortured artist protagonist was conducted before work on the artefact commenced, character development continues. Unforeseen and organic developments in plot offer opportunities to explore new aspects of a character trait, or level of complexity. It is important to me that my readers gain something, some insight, from reading about my tortured artist character.
"[Phenomena] have something to say to us—this is common knowledge among poets and painters. Therefore, poets and painters are born phenomenologists. Or rather, we are all born phenomenologists; the poets and painters among us, however, understand very well their task of sharing, by means of word and image, their insights with others—an artfulness that is also laboriously practised by the professional phenomenologist.
~ Van den Berg, translated by Van Manen (cited by Groenewald)
Phenomenological analysis of personal accounts helps to give me an increased depth of understanding for my tortured artist character. This in turn, enables me to incorporate select information into the artefact. This blending of biographical stories, this accidental intertextuality, could prompt readers to make connections between the novel and a similar text, or a cultural practice or personal experience.
The artefact is a work of realist fiction, i.e. fictional characters inhabit a re-created real world of the past. Inspiration for the tortured artist protagonist has been drawn from multiple sources, yet it’s entirely possible that readers will recognise their own, or similar, experiences, or the experiences of others known to them, within the narrative. But what of the real-life characters who inspired the creation of the protagonist? Have I appropriated their lives? Am I exploiting them for personal gain? It is certainly not my intention to do so. My intention is to highlight some of the difficulties faced by drug addicts and homosexuals, the dangers of the pressure to succeed (whether posed by society or self), and the challenge of finding meaning in life—and to do this as truthfully and respectfully as possible as a work of entertainment.
Then there is the issue of how graphic the text can be before it becomes a ‘how to’ manual for taking drugs. There’s no question that people who are invested in taking drugs will find a way whether it’s in this narrative or not. However, I have chosen to leave some things a mystery.
My responsibility to the audience is equally important. Fiction has the power to make a difference in peoples’ lives. It has the potential to help people become better and more ethically rational. Writing reflects the ethics and morals of the writer, as such, an author’s moral and ethical responsibilities are considerable.
"As writing will reflect the ethics or moral principles of the writer, it is important that writers rigorously question both themselves and their writing. This is the importance of being aware that we are like everyone else—products of the society. Where we are born and educated has shaped us in particular ways, and so our view of the world is coloured, formed and contextualised by our positioning.
~ Enza Gandolfo
I am a product of the time and place about which I am writing. However, as the author of the text, I am fully aware that my approach to the narrative must be a responsible one and that great care must be taken in re-creating the historical setting and general Zeitgeist of the time. Adhering to high ethical standards is the only way to crystallise the integrity of the artefact.
GENRE AND STYLE
The artefact is a work of literary fiction. The straightforward plot facilitates the journeys of complex characters, each one with his or her own wants and needs, goals and desires, weaknesses and flaws. The text is primarily written in first person, from the protagonist’s point of view. First person narrative is immediate, intimate, and enables the reader to enter into the mind of the character and share in their experiences. Reading becomes experiential rather than observational as the reader is forced to walk in the protagonist’s shoes.
The narrative is structured like a diary with sequential dates marking the passage of time. The text is also bookended by flash forwards. Several scenes are graphic in their description of drug use and its consequences, but I make no apology for this. My goal is to recreate a truthful world. Unfortunately, this is a choice that could alienate some potential readers proving to be too distressing and/or too confrontational for them.
I have also chosen to use simple yet poetic language, which is evocative of song lyrics and suggest meaning through the use of carefully constructed sounds, silence, rhythm, and space. In the prologue of Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck says, ‘I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks… figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that… Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle…’ The great Elmore Leonard prompted new writers to think about what they skipped when reading a novel—thick paragraphs of prose with too many words. He said, ‘What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle … has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip the dialogue’ [Popova, n.d.]. Dialogue is a critical element of my text. It is simple and uncomplicated yet serves two important purposes. One, it reflects the voices of the time and place. And two, it serves as a device to take the pensive protagonist out of his own headspace and into communication with other characters.
JOURNAL AND REFLEXIVITY
As much as I would like to say that my journal is a neat and ordered record of my thoughts, feelings, inspirations, research, and research methods for this manuscript, I cannot. Rather, my journal is a chaotic collection of notes tapped into my phone, my iPad, my laptop, on USB sticks, in emails to myself, and scribbled in the margins of endless drafts printed on paper. There’s also the odd recording on my phone when I’m stuck in traffic. Regardless of the chaos, at each stage of development, from preparation and initial research, to incubation, and reflection on ideas of purpose, to illumination and that flash of insight that connects disparate and random ideas, to verification and the distillation of those initial thoughts and research into a solid and well thought out concept, I have been able to step back and consider what was working and wasn’t, and how I felt about my progress.
Initial research into the development of my tortured artist protagonist began with a lot of reading, reflecting, and note taking. I thought about the purpose of the story, the point of the narrative and who it would serve. If it were ever published, who would read it? I knew I wanted to tell a humanist story, and that I should ‘write what I know’.
Consequently, I decided to write about a rock ‘n’ roll band in Melbourne in the 1980s. But how could I write a rock ‘n’ roll story that was not an immediate cliché? I believed the answer was in the creation of the protagonist. He could not be a cliché. In that moment of verification, I also made the choice to tell the story using a first person narrative, told from the protagonist’s point of view. From here, the theme developed—the unattainability of desires—which means the protagonist, while functional, is often melancholy. I was certain about my choice, but admit I was concerned it could affect the audience’s ability to form empathy for him. Research into the protagonist’s development continued conjointly with the drafting of narrative outline.
"However, can the writer create a relationship with a reader? When Roland Barthes, wrote ‘…the text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination’ (1977, p. 148), he placed the reader centre stage. His comment placed authors in the odd position of knowing that readers reconstruct texts in the light of their own experiences and understandings of language. So to what extent do we write for our readers and to what extent do we write for ourselves?
~ Roland Bathes (cited by Elizabeth Colbert)
Several months later, when the outline was fit to be seen by others, I gave it to critical friends for feedback. Their responses were not what I’d been hoping for. Some didn’t like the shifts in time. Others wondered if I was glorifying drug addiction. To say I wasn’t rocked would be a lie. In fact, I was rocked so deeply that I considered abandoning the project. I felt the time shifts were an essential bookending to the story, and I’d never considered the text to be a glorification of drug addiction. The experience forced to me to step back and to ask myself several important questions: Am I doing the very thing I did not want to do and glorifying drug addiction? Who will be interested in reading this story? Who am I writing this story for? I cannot deny that I am writing this story for myself and that there is an element of catharsis in doing so. Did I do all that I could for my friends? Could I have done more? As I pondered, I realised this story is not a glorification of addiction. Neither is it a cautionary tale. The reality is readers will take nothing more, or nothing less, than what they need to take from a text, even if that is nothing.
As I considered those questions, and my eventual answers, I realised that the tortured artist is an archetype that is present in much of my creative work. But why? What is it about the tortured artist character that speaks to me in such a profound way? There is, without question, a sense of romance around the idea of a person shedding blood for their art. There is also something enviable about the virtuoso who seems to have the ability to just make art happen (despite the untold years that have gone into practicing that art). All art, whether it be written, visual, or physical, is created because of a need to communicate, and art that is created without the experience of suffering is unlikely to move us in quite the same way as art that has been created through suffering. And so, using the outline as my frame, I began work on the text.
In the 1970s, renowned Hungarian-born psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi began studying creatives in an effort to understand why they felt compelled to dedicate their life to a pursuit that offered neither fame nor fortune, but which, nevertheless, gave their life meaning. He found that in the process of creating, creative people experienced a state of ecstasy, whereby they entered a different reality [Csikszentmihalyi, 2008]. Csikszentmihalyi called this experience the ‘flow experience’. When I began writing the novel, I had the gift of time where for almost twelve months I was able to indulge my creativity. When I entered the writing stage, there were many times when I experienced Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. During these times, it seemed as though words and ideas emerged from me as if delivered by some divine or unconscious source. At times, these moments were almost spiritual in their profundity and caused me to sit back and wonder where the words came from because I was certain they couldn’t have come from me. That’s not to say the writing was easy. It wasn’t. Every word was carefully chosen and every sentence carefully crafted.
As I continue to research and to write, I realise that my process is cyclical. It is a system of research, write, reflect, rewrite. Rinse and repeat. It’s a system that is interwoven with endless emotional moments including, but not limited to, frustration, fury, excitement, relief, anxiousness, pride, disappointment, and happiness. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. Regrettably, current life circumstances mean that further progress on the project is slow, and this is a cause of some concern. I fear that when I am finally able to return to it I will not be able to harness the same ‘spirit’ that I had before, and that it will be difficult recapturing the ‘voice’ or that it will be noticeably different. When the time comes, it will be interesting to see if I am able to pick up the thread. It will be equally interesting to see if, after considerable time away from it, I can bring anything new to it. More importantly, I wonder if I will still like it.
Recent scientific studies claim to have found the reason why musicians attract the attention of admirers (why they have done this for hundreds of years). Listening to music releases dopamine in the rewards region of the brain just as eating a good meal, taking psychoactive drugs, or enjoying an evening of passion does. The more the listener enjoys what they hear, the more dopamine is released [ReOrbit, 2013]. Researchers also found support for Charles Darwin’s theory that the prime function of music is to aid in sexual courtship [Malnick, 2014]. They found that ‘The ability to create complex music could be indicative of advanced cognitive abilities’ and that ‘…women may acquire genetic benefits for offspring by selecting musicians able to create more complex music as sexual partners’ [ibid].
Psychiatrist George L. Engel’s biopsychosocial model argues that it is the interplay between people's genetic makeup (biology), mental health and behaviour (psychology), and social and cultural context that determines the course of their health-related outcomes [Boundless, 2016]. Despite the status quo of the biopsychosocial model hanging in the balance [Ghaemi, 2009], my tortured artist protagonist is clearly a product of the key elements of the theory. Every human being is shaped by the social groups to which they belong. Fictional characters are no different; they must be a product of the social groups of their time.
When I began this project, it was my intention to show that there is always a reason for self-destructive behaviour. I chose to do that using the archetypal tortured artist character, specifically a musician. My high-functioning, gay, drug-addicted protagonist is attempting to forge a career in the music industry, an industry that offers huge amounts of stress to produce and perform in return for minimal job security and or long-term pecuniary insurance. He is painfully aware that the music industry is really a marketing industry where image is everything and the maxim is ‘sex sells’.
The archetypal tormented artist character feels alienated and misunderstood, is disappointed by those who don’t support them, engages in substance abuse or self-harm, and suffers from mental illness or depression. And of course, the defining characteristic is that they are in constant torment due to frustrations with their art and/or with other people. My protagonist exhibits all of these characteristics, except for the defining characteristic—he is not frustrated with his art. Rather, he knows that in order to ‘sell sex’ he must hide his true identity. And so he walks the razor’s edge between chasing his dream, a dream he’s had since he was a child, and living a lie.
So, have I created a tortured artist character is more than a cliché and who doesn’t weaken the creative community? Yes, and no. I have indeed created a familiar archetype. However, I do not believe it matters if the character exhibits clichéd traits. I believe that what matters are the circumstances that have led him to this point in his life, and those circumstances do not, I believe, weaken the creative community. Rather, I believe he contributes to the knowledge that we have of the tortured artist archetype.
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