Why We Should Let Artists Be Happy (And Stop Glamourising Suffering)

“No great genius has ever existed without a touch of madness” – Aristotle.

When’s the last time you heard someone say “I’m so glad that *insert tortured artist here* got clean and is mentally well adjusted. Their work is just so much better now.”
We glorify suffering in the arts. To some degree, I think we equate it with depth. People who feel heaps of feelings must be so complex and multi-faceted and interesting. We often talk about how artists’ peak periods were fraught with misery and turmoil, and their biographies usually end with them dying or getting their shit together (which, in either case, completes the story). It’s true that studies have shown that creative people have an increased likelihood of suffering from mental illness in their lifetime. But are we helping the matter when we constantly equate ones own genius with ones own suffering? 
As an adolescent, I bought into this “tortured-artist” thing hook, line and sinker. I idolised these people, I admired their art and I thought that their psychological illness only served to enhance their creativity. It made me less prone to addressing my own psych issues – hell, it made me, in a way, kind of proud of them. I must be complex, I must be deep, I must be interesting.  
It took a while to break this illusion. Of course, the last thing an “artist” wants to be is less interesting. However, ones ability to make great art is not synonymous with living a great life. We’re constantly shocked when incredibly wealthy, successful artists, who seem to have achieved every creative and commercial accolade possible, reveal they suffer from depression or take their own lives. It’s almost like we think they’re not entitled to be sad when all the while we’ve been hyping the fact that it’s their sadness that helps makes them great.
If you’re one who is prone to glamourising the suffering of your idols (or your own suffering), here are a few things to keep in mind;

  1. 1. You live your life way more than you live your art. They’re not the same thing (even though it does sound wonderfully bohemian). 
  2. 2. Happiness & contentment is not creative suicide. Many artists have flourished with the clarity and balance that comes with getting your shit together. 
  3. 3. The longer you hold onto the idea of suffering as a beacon of complexity and productivity, the harder it will be to separate from it. There is much more that makes you and others prolific, complex and interesting besides unhappiness. 

One of my favourite Americana singer/songwriters, Jason Isbell explores his journey with getting clean, starting a family and maintaining his career and creativity beyond the “tortured artist” concept. Despite walking away from his wild, reckless, outlaw lifestyle, his recent work is beautiful, nuanced and rich in complexity. Which goes to show art can thrive – beyond suffering, beyond misery, beyond  madness. 

“I broke a promise to myself – to ride the throttle ’til the wheels came off (&) burn out like a molotov in the night sky. I broke a promise to myself. And made a couple to a brown-eyed girl who rode with me through the mean old world. Never say die.” Molotov, Jason Isbell. 

For crisis and suicide prevention support, contact Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis line on 13 11 14. For more information and help with depression contact your doctor or Beyond Blue.


Travelling alone is something everyone is encouraged to do – at least once in our lives. We are constantly bombarded by motivational Pinterest quotes or Tumblr posts to “wake up in cities you don’t know and have conversations in languages you cannot entirely understand” but travelling alone is fraught with challenges, some that I feel we are reluctant to address on account of us being concerned about giving the impression that our solitary adventures were all completely substantial and enriching. Not to mention we’re so eager to seize these formative, international experiences for all they’re worth that we’re filled with a striking anxiety that the whole time we’ve been wasting our time at the wrong places, doing the wrong things, with no one.
I like understanding things. And understanding is more challenging in new environments. The difficulty is only highlighted when one travels alone because we are forced to work things out on our own. Basic things, that are usually automatic back at home, like knowing what food you’ve ordered or getting around on public transport, suddenly become complicated and fraught with error.  I had a brief heart attack when 20min after leaving a bar I realised I had walked out and not paid for any of my drinks, and almost crawled up into a ball when I ordered food from the deli and had no idea when or where I was supposed to pay for it.
Loneliness is also more pervasive as connectivity to your usual circles is dependent on wifi availability, and any stranger who talks to you is viewed cautiously, either out for something, or keen to prattle endlessly at you about some vague understanding they have of your “foreign” culture. I’m often keen to call up a friend to come meet me at a place where a great band is playing or invite my sisters out to try this amazing French toast I discovered, but they are all sadly unavailable to traverse the globe at my instant behest to check out a cool gig or try a well-seasoned breakfast.
(Please don’t get the impression I’m lamenting my privilege of having the time and financial freedom to take an indulgent vacation. I’m merely examining what it is to do it alone and perhaps realign expectation with – at least, my – reality.)
My partner and I often discuss the validity of experiences and memories that aren’t shared with anyone else, or people we will probably never see again. Sometimes tiny moments dissolve and are quickly buried in the trifling detritus of everyday life. This makes me worried that the memories are lost forever; evaporated in the ether, transparent and essentially worthless. But my boyfriend insists they are somehow silently etched into your identity, informing your character and being every bit as essential to enriching your future self as the fondness of an unforgettable memory.
Almost ten years ago, in a hostel in Hiroshima, my friends and I traded some cheap vodka for internet usage from a young, French backpacker. Next month, one of my friends is marrying that backpacker.
So sometimes those moments we thought were meaningless, turn out to be the ones to shape our lives forever.


When asked the question “Are you kind?” I think most of us would want to answer in the affirmative. We like to think of ourselves as essentially kind – not wishing ill will to others, wanting to help when we can by lending an ear, offering up a smile, a word of encouragement, a hug or a shoulder to cry on when somebody needs it.
Being good feels good and according to studies, when we perform acts of kindness, we are being true to our own nature. Research conducted by Max Planck at the Max Planck Institute showed that people begin helping others at a crazy, young age. “…a 14-month old child seeing an adult experience difficulty, such as struggling to open a door because their hands are full, will automatically attempt to help.”
But I can’t help but think, in spite of our in built tendency towards kindness, how rare it is to be truly kind without conditions. We often treat kindness as a transaction – do something kind, so we’ll get something in return. Whether it be; mowing the lawn for your lonely, elderly neighbour so they’ll leave you their vintage Bob Dylan records when they die, smiling at and tipping your bartender so they might overfill your scotch in the next round, or even holding a door open for someone and expecting a “thank you” for your efforts.
Putting it like this makes us sound bloody selfish, but I’m definitely guilty of it. As much as it feels great to help people, to connect and be compassionate, it feels crappy to be taken for granted, and to have our time and efforts wasted. There seems to be a fine line between doing no harm and taking no shit. How often do you reach out to a friend or family member who shows no reciprocity to your acts of kindness and compassion? What’s the point of turning down your subwoofer at 11pm when your neighbour only ever speaks to you when they’re complaining about noise? And why bother giving that homeless lady your spare $2 if she’s just going straight to the Bottle-O?
Being kind is hard work. It’s sometimes difficult understanding why some people even deserve it. But perhaps instead of assessing who is worthy of what level of kindness, and doling it out based on a potential reward system, we should make the act of kindness the goal in and of itself? And hey, be selfish. Do it because it makes you feel good. Because it helps you sleep better at night knowing you’ve made someone’s life a little brighter, richer or easier, even just for a moment.
Like me, writing this blog, for you.


Yesterday I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and I started sniggering. I had landed on an image that someone I follow (but have never met in person) posted of their original artwork. I found it amateurish and obvious and basically basic. It was just the sort of art that I would never make and never share and I hated it, so I just laughed at it. But then I stopped myself.
A part about me I have never liked is that I’m a bit of a judgemental bitch. I don’t know whether it came from going to a highly competitive school or having very specific tastes and preferences I hold in high regard, but I just am quick to find things I don’t like about situations/people/places and judge them harshly (and mostly incorrectly) on that basis. It’s silly, and nasty and completely unfair but I never really acknowledged it as a problem until a few years ago when I got into a funk where pretty much anything I said/did/was was not good enough. I put a lot of pressure on myself and didn’t achieve a bunch of goals I had set for myself, and I thought I was hopeless failure. But in amongst my despair I got fairly introspective and I finally realised that that judgemental part of me (that I always just attributed to me having high expectations and good taste – hmm) was actually poisoning me from the inside out and making me judge and annihilate everything I was. It was brutal and destructive and so I realised that in order to try and stop hating on myself and everything I tried to do, I needed to start being kinder in regard to the people/places and situations around me. I started to check myself when my mind would leap to the first nasty conclusion. I tried pulling a Pollyanna and seeing the good and the noble in things. Often it felt trite. Often it felt like I was betraying my true, sassy and amusingly-critical self. But I kept at it.
I’m not saying I’m your regular Maria Von Trapp now – far from it. Sometimes it feels like being a bitch gives you character, but mainly it just gives you self-loathing and an insecurity complex. I certainly think that that awareness (and practices that promote awareness such as meditation and yoga) really helped me start to move towards a kinder and gentler space. Not only for those around me but also for myself.
So when I laugh at people’s creative exploits on social media (or their ugly outfits, or their poorly applied eye-brows,) I stop and I breathe, and I check myself. Who am I to judge? Aren’t we all just out there giving it a red hot go? And isn’t the bravery it takes to try tough enough without having some self-righteous stranger sitting thousands of miles away behind a backlit screen sniggering at your attempts? So be nice. God knows I’m/it’s trying.



Honesty is a virtue. As kids, we’re warned off telling fibs from tales like Peter & the Wolf, and the word ‘dishonesty’ conjures up vivid images of Disney villains and overall bad guys. Cheaters, criminals, tricksters and frauds practice dishonesty, not us good folks. But as we get older, whilst we may still uphold the honour of being honest at work and with our partners, friends and family, it seems a lot less shameful, a whole less obvious, and quite a bit easier to start being dishonest with ourselves.
The other night I went to see Gillian Welch play at the Enmore Theatre. Aside from making me want to sell all my belongings, get a blue merle collie and become a lonesome wanderer somewhere deep in the Appalachian Mountains, I was particularly struck by how unashamedly honest and genuine her performance was. She stood on the naked stage (with Dave Rawlings accompanying her), armed with a banjo, a guitar, her cowboy boots and a microphone and played Americana/Country/Bluegrass music that’s not particularly “in vogue”, with a voice that wouldn’t make it that far on American Idol. But the whole time, she was perfectly and unapologetically herself. It was a beautiful thing to witness, and particularly refreshing in the world of the arts where there is so much artifice and construction of false identities. It got me thinking about what a wicked Disney villain I’ve been to myself over the past few years, in regards to letting myself do, be, and create something that is just. me.

We get so caught up with considering what we think we should be doing; what our family thinks we should do, what our friends think we should do, what the industry thinks we should do, what is cool, what is profitable, what is affordable, what is beautiful, what is popular, what is niche, what is going to get us attention… and we fail to ever stop and ask ourselves, what can I do/be/create that is the most honest and genuine reflection of who I am.
Working as a singer for a few years, I was constantly trying to be more like who I thought I should be, that I really began to lose who I was. I tried singing more like the girls who got all the gigs. I tried choosing songs that would make venues want to book me more. I tried dressing a certain way, and performing a certain way, until eventually I was this mangled and contorted version of myself that eventually served me only to fuel my own destruction. It was gruesome. And It was sad. And of course, at the time you believe you’re doing what is necessary. You need to eat, goddamn it. So you compromise and modify and you’re making money and getting work so it feels like you’re doing the right thing. Only there’s this little, niggling voice that bugs you right before you go to sleep. And I got very, very good at drowning that little voice out. So good, in fact, that I wound up drowning out my other money-making, work-getting, singing voice with it.
Taking steps towards developing my fine arts practice, I’ve already found myself being led by the questions “What should I be painting? What sort of stuff will people like? What sort of stuff will people buy?” that I am potentially leading myself to repeat history all over again. Art is about honesty. At least it should be. And if I ever want to get close to calling myself a true artist, I need to be creating from a place of honesty and integrity, where my work is a genuine expression of who I am and what inspires me, rather than what will make me money or get me attention.

So I’m gonna start by getting real. And I’ll try to find that little, niggling voice again (that guy knows what’s up). Finding your own, authentic self and embracing, accepting and *gasp* even liking it is a bloody challenge…especially when there are no guarantees anyone else will.

Cheers to giphy.com for the images.


We all grow up in a world where, quite early on, we learn what is important and what our value is based on. For someone born into a competitive, sporty family, value is placed on physical strength and aptitude. Perhaps your family placed a high value on money and having lots of it. So getting rich is something, by consequence, you feel is very important and your ability to do so (or not) has a large effect on how you feel about yourself. Now, imagine you’re a woman. You grow up in a world where society deems it appropriate to stress the value and importance of one thing above all others – beauty.


Now although beauty is objective, there is a general understanding that some standards of beauty are irrefutable. The women who usually represent these standards, of course, are supermodels. Their images are everywhere – plastered over billboards, in magazine editorials, on YouTube commercials and on Tumblr blogs. They’re the benchmark of beauty everywhere, and are damn hard to avoid. And often, when I come into contact with one of these images, my mind. does. this:

“God, that women is beautiful. I wonder how much more beautiful she is than me? I wonder how much taller she is than me? I wonder how much it would cost to get breast enlargement surgery to get boobs that look as good as that? I wonder how much food I’d need to stop eating and how many hours at the gym I’d need to spend to get my body looking like that? I want gelato! You fat bitch. You can’t eat gelato if you want to look like that. My nose is a lot uglier than her nose, I wonder if I got a nose job how much more beautiful I would be? Even with a nose job, I wonder if I’d need to get lip injections too?”…and on and on and on.

Before you tell me how ridiculous that all is and start telling me to “love myself”, explaining that supermodels represent an unrealistic standard of beauty and that comparison is the root of all evil, let’s go back to when we were growing up and learning what’s supposedly important and valuable, and then how that was quantified. If you were sporty, then it was being able to run faster than the other runners, or score more goals than the other team. If it was money, it’s how much more expensive is your neighbours house than your house, or how much more money do you make than the guy in the office next door?
I went to a highly academic school, and was constantly judging myself on how well or badly I did in the latest exam compared to all the other girls in my class. And the last two years of high school were spent slaving away in order to try and do better than all the kids in all the other schools. Comparison, we learn from quite early on, is how we measure just how good or bad we are. And while we usually only bother to compare ourselves in regards to those things we consider important (I don’t compare my plumbing abilities with those of a certified plumber because quite honestly, idgaf about plumbing), it’s only natural that, with the importance placed on beauty by society, our first recourse to witnessing a beautiful woman is comparison and self judgement.
It’s exhausting. But I doubt it’s particularly unusual. And what makes it even worse is that we’re told by modern self help gurus and encouraging web articles how poisonous comparison is and how beauty isn’t everything, but, we’re hardly just going to drop decades of subconscious conditioning because Oprah tells us to. So there’s the initial struggle of these thoughts and then the added guilt for thinking them in the first place. THANKS FOR NOTHING, SOCIETY.
This is why I love art, and it’s unique and varied representations of women. Unlike the models in Dolce & Gabbana ads and female pop stars in music videos and wilting heroines in blockbuster movies, women in art are strange and unique and interesting. Each art work redefines the meaning of beauty, and makes the comparison of one’s beauty with the woman depicted seem futile as the image is merely a representation of a woman and not an actual woman. Not to mention that beauty is not even always the goal of an artist depicting a female in art. Instead we’re encouraged to think, not ‘how much more beautiful/less beautiful is she than me’ but rather ‘I wonder what she is thinking? I wonder what she’s been through? What she dreams of? Where she came from?’ Human stuff. ‘Cause womens are humans too. And we’ve got lots more to offer than just being the girl who’s more or less beautiful than the blonde chick in the perfume commercial.



They tell us that perfection is unattainable. An unreasonable benchmark that haunts and hinders creatives like a hovering black cloud with impeccable eyeliner. It seems fair enough to ward people off the idea of striving for perfection. It halts a great deal of projects. Stirs up inner conflicts. Turns people into quitters.

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Dali said that . But I often have a problem believing the impossibility of attaining perfection because, quite honestly, I feel confronted by perfection constantly and relentlessly. What drives me towards seeking perfection is the pure evidence that it exists. In John Lennon’s Across The Universe. In Mark Rothko’s 1962 Blue & Grey. In Pinterest photos of naked cakes. In fine lace detail on AP lingerie, antique jewellery, pink peonies and Marilyn Monroe in All About Eve.

Now, creative & aesthetic perfection is objective. I’m sure you could actively find fault in any of the examples I’ve listed above (not to my face though, or I’ll cut you). But I think that they’re perfect. And if they can be perfect, then why can’t I? Or at least why can’t I create something that is?

I think the corruption comes from the creative process itself. The sweat and anguish about selecting just the right colours. Or having the lines just the right length or nailing the texture, or perfectly balancing the composition. It’s all trial and error. And even when we’re finished and are left with something that we’re mildly happy with, it still seems far from perfect, because for the creator, that completed work is still charged with the memories of all those little failures that went into creating it. And nothing feels less perfect than failure. Where as when we look at the work we admire of others, there are no memories of failure. No recollections of struggle, or disappointment, or regret. Just something beautiful. Complete. Perfect.

Perhaps the real challenge lies in the ability to allow oneself to recall those struggles and see perfection in the final work even still. God knows its possible, or should I say, Kanye knows its possible…(same thing really. According to him). Or is the greater task to not aim to see things as perfect and imperfect, but rather just as they are, and as they affect you.

I did a painting of some pink peonies. The flowers were perfect. The painting, far from it. And I guess that’s okay.


Abstract art’s a tricky one. People who don’t get it discount it on account of it looking like something they could’ve done one afternoon whilst watching Bold & the Beautiful. Everyone who does “get it” seems to do so in order to appear superior to all those that don’t. Kind of like claiming to understand a language that all the “basics” haven’t managed or cared to learn.

I think that’s crap.

I’ve always been a huge fan of abstract art, more so as I get older. Twentieth century greats like Cy Twombly, Willam de Kooning, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko, have always hit me right in the feels.

Cy Twombly
Willam de Kooning
Mark Rothko
Franz Kline


















And the idea that only those that “speak it’s language” can really derive any pleasure and satisfaction out of it seems ludicrous to me. I’ve always thought that abstract art is the easiest to respond to as a viewer, because it doesn’t require you to make any rational or logical deductions. You don’t have to “see a sunset” or “spot the ocean”. You can respond viscerally. With feelings and emotional reactions that are completely unencumbered by subject matter or content. They’re raw. And I think they’re more reflective of both the artist and the audience than a figurative portrait could ever be.

I’ve been feeling messy. But in sort of a soft, pink, fairy floss kinda way. The air has been thick and sweet, like treacle, and for the first time I’ve started to find lightness in the unbearable weight of being. I picked up my paint brush and started a study for a large scale abstract piece (see feature image).

And whether you get it, or not, is really of no consequence. To quote the great Freddie Mercury, “…I say what any decent poet would say if you dared ask him to analyse his work: if you see it, darling, then it’s there.”


When it comes to the task of creating, I have often faced the issue of worthiness. Somehow I’ve led myself to believe that one must be worthy of creating art. One must have something important to say, or to have faced considerable challenges in ones life to make something worth making. I’m lucky enough to have led rather a privileged life, with a happy family, great friends and never in want of anything. What could I possibly have to say that’s of any interest to anyone?

Now, I know I’m not the only one who is afflicted with this particular mindset. And I’m sure it’s put a lot of great people off every making their first mark. Today, I made myself pick up a pencil and make some marks. Whilst in the process of drawing, I didn’t consider my worthiness. I drew for the act of drawing. I drew to express my oneness with the craft and with the subject matter. I made marks and erased marks, but even in the erasure, an indication that the marks were once there still remained. And it reminded me of me. Of all the marks that, over time, have made me who I am right now. A restless, dirty-blonde romantic with some busted dreams and a good record collection. Some marks you see, some marks you can’t, but you gotta own them eventually, and you might as well try and turn them into something beautiful.

So that’s what I did today. And that might not be worth much to you, but to me, it’s a bloody epiphany.


I used to read a helluva lot of biographies back in high school. Book after book recounting the extraordinary lives of rock stars, actors, comedians and such. The stories were captivating and almost a blueprint of how I wanted to shape my own life. It seemed simple, you have a dream, and you go out and get it. Of course there’s a great deal of hard work involved. A lot of people you need to get out and meet. A lot of shit you have to put up with before the good stuff happens. But it seemed doable.

So I started taking steps towards living the life I always dreamed of. A creative life, that made use of my unique talents and helped share them with the world. First I quit a job that made me miserable. Next (with a little help from my friends) I fell into the right crowd and formed a band. Started singing at clubs and pubs. Soon we were playing functions and weddings. The money was good. And the job was fun. I loved the feeling of being up on stage, of helping people celebrate their birthday’s and graduations and weddings, and mostly being able to be my own boss and make money on my own terms. We starting writing our own songs. Recording them. Last year we released our first originals EP. It seemed like everything was falling into place.

Although of course, it wasn’t.

After months and months of struggling with vocal issues. Treating myself for pyschological disorders. Coming home after gigs crying because I couldn’t understand how my voice was degenerating in such a way…. “I’M DOING THIS FOR A LIVING NOW. I’M SINGING MORE THAN EVER. I’M GOOD. I’M SUCCESSFUL. I’M LIVING MY CREATIVE LIFE Wait? HOW CAN I BE GETTING WORSE!??!”

After a few inconclusive tests and vocal therapy sessions, all signs (kinda) pointed to vocal paresis. A condition that partially disables one or more of the nerves to your vocal cords, rendering it exceptionally difficult to support your voice and control breathing, pitch and tone (basically the main requirements to be a professional singer.) There was no fix either. Maybe some expensive therapy. But then who can afford that when you realise that you don’t have a job anymore?

It was excruciating. In an instant it felt like my whole future went up in flames. Everything I had been working for for years. Gone.

“If you can dream it, do it.” “Dream big.” “The biggest adventure you can take is to live your dreams.” “Never let go of your dreams.”

Well what fucking happens if your dreams let go of you? No one writes biographies of those people. The unlucky ones. The partial-achievers. Lets be real – the failures. But they’re out there, I know, because I’m one of them.

So what’s next? Start again, I guess. Right from the beginning.

Take a blank page, and make a mark, however small.

Who knows, sooner or later, things might bloom.