My connection between Van Gogh and Hemingway: Images of the (self) tormented artist

Me and my girlfriend have a term we often use, “Hemingwaying”. The term basically means writing while drinking a lot of alcohol. This is, as can be expected, taken from Ernest Hemingway’s credo. I do feel that I get better ideas with those irritating inhibitions at bay. Unfortunately, I suffer from a condition of which I reported when I started this blog, which causes me a great deal of pain and discomfort in the chest and abdomen when I drink alcohol or eat fried food (which often follow alcohol), and yet, I persist in doing it, because I believe it helps me write.

I am not an idiot, I know it is unhealthy and obviously not in my best interest to inflict pain on myself for the sake of writing. So why do I torment myself (or why am I so melodramatic so as to use the word torment to describe what I am doing)? The answer came to me in a rather strange fashion:

I am a HUGE fan of the long-running British sci-fi show Dr. Who (don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about the BBC having cast Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor, I’m actually very excited to see how she does). One episode in the 5th season shows the Doctor and his companion Amy Pond (my favorite companion ever, along with Rory, of course) meeting tormented artist Vincent Van Gogh. The episode show Vincent as a depressed drinker, slightly mad, and having the self-esteem of the average amoeba. I found myself taken with him immediately. His depression and fits of melancholy, his drinking, his feeling of being RIGHTFULLY unappreciated as an artist (may I also at this point congratulate Tony Curran on his outstanding performance as Vincent Van Gogh). And that got me thinking, why do I automatically like him and identify with him?

There have been many who said that true art is born of pain, and indeed some of the greatest artists of all times suffered greatly during their lives, and this, of course, includes writers. This has made a sort of cultural image of artists needing to go through a sort of “rite of passage” of poverty, dejection, alcoholism, loneliness and so on. And we, as artists ourselves, might feel “incomplete” if our journey into writing lacked any of those (not to mention all of them together like the tragic life of Mr. Van Gogh).

I then understood that that is why I Hemingway (as a verb) and drink as I write, only to inevitably feel intense pain later. I create pain for myself to complete this romanticized image of how I believe I should be as an artist, and that makes it ridiculous, unhealthy, and rather counterproductive.

There is nothing wrong with having an image of how we think things should be, in fact, it is natural and everyone has it for something (multiple things, actually, the most common ones are ideas of masculinity or femininity), but we need to be aware that that is all they are. I don’t need to be in pain to write, I don’t need to know how to fix stuff to be a man, I don’t really need to wear glasses to be smart (I need them to see, not be smart). These are just social constructs that have become embedded in our common consciousness and while they could be fun to watch or read about, they don’t have to hold power in the real world!

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