A conversation sprouted at my workplace a couple weeks ago that became prevalent in my mind while I read Sylvia Plath the other other day. She was a poet of the 60s, and her collection “Ariel” includes the last poetry she wrote before her final attempt (and success) at suicide in 1963. It was her third attempt. Plath was suicidal, and upon reading her poems i can definitely notice themes exploring mortality. There is a lot of powerful emotion that can be considered depressing.
The conversation at work was about relating talent to mental or emotional imbalance. Apparently (according to these opinions) those artists who produce the most celebrated works, also could be considered abnormal. Plath was suicidal, Van Gogh spent time in an asylum, Hemmingway was a drunk then he too, shot himself… there seems to be this recurring trope of distressed artist.
What does that say about talent? Well talent then, is the result of some kind of instability.
I can’t really agree with this. I am aware that a writer (I choose to focus on the writer because this concept is what I relate to) is advised to write about what they know. If all a writer could focus on was suffering, whether it is exterior or interior, it can indeed make for some extremely powerful literature. Art is a form of therapy after all. But I attribute a large component of this power to the very nature of the human being.
We can deny it, but humans have a fascination with the darkness. Humans are intrigued by the morbid, the twisted, the paranormal and abnormal. Perhaps because these subjects can be so far from typical normalcy that people tend to gravitate towards it. We are captivated by pain. Hence, the popularity of the horror genre, or even those fun yet slightly gruesome fight scenes in action films.
I have suffered some mild emotional hardships, mild anxiety, mild heartbreak, but nothing that could be considered extreme. Does this mean that I won’t be able to produce powerful literature? I hope not. Does this mean that my talent, as I write about what I know, has less merit?
I suppose, bottom line, what irked me about the conversation at my workplace was the fact that the definition of talent was placed in a box. I don’t believe that talent can be concretely defined. It is complex and can take different forms. This is of course, only my opinion, but I’m not even sure if there is such thing as talent for a writer. Sure there is the technical skill, the ability to compose your thoughts and ideas well, but the magic that can be created through art is something undefinable. And personally, I know this is going to sound cheesy, I think everyone has the potential to produce great and powerful things.
p.s. I have great respect and admiration for all the artists I named in this post, by the way. Just saying, I am in no means trying to insult them. (or anyone else)