alcohol and art

these last few days i’ve been listening to quite a few people talk about their experience with alcohol misuse, either through their own struggles or because of alcoholism among their loved ones.

what is it about alcohol abuse that frightens us so? when i was younger, it was the strange and dangerous-seeming world that drunks would enter, a dark and dizzying universe that held both almost unbearable intensity and stupefying numbness.

some alcoholics are peaceful and quiet when they get drunk. others are so tense that it’s hard to be around them when they’re not drinking. then there are people who break into terrifying violence or other, barely disguised forms of aggression, such as dangerous driving.

and then there are some that make it through this horrible tunnel of booze and come out the other end.

here are some artists who did it.

john callahan is a great inspiration to me. this raving-lunatic cartoonist’s story is portrayed in his autobiography don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot. his drinking got him into an accident that left him paralyzed. now a recovering alcoholic, he draws very, very strange cartoons and has written a beautiful and touching children’s book, the king of strings and the cranberry clown, where he shows the absolute futility of trying to control one’s life.

hailing from a very different corner is composer and writer ned rorem:

I’m five things: I’m homosexual and alcoholic (a recovered alcoholic – I haven’t had a drink of any sort in 34 years). I’m also an atheist, and a pacifist, totally atheist and totally pacifist. And I’m a composer. That’s the only one that’s problematic; people don’t know what you’re talking about when you say you’re a composer. But you are a composer or you aren’t, and you know that pretty early.

(go here for the rest of the interview with him)

going some time back, there is dexter gordon, who, my jazz musician husband tells me, spent 15 years in europe partly because that would make it easier for him to quit the sauce. after returning to the states, he won critical acclaim for portraying another alcoholic saxophonist in the movie round midnight.

finally, if you want to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, here’s “johnnyboy’s” blog, about the life journey of a recovering alcoholic and musician.

may we all learn from these guys.

and if alcohol has been a difficult experience in your life, maybe i can help you.  drop me a line if you’d like to talk about that.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

53 thoughts on “alcohol and art

  1. skovgaard

    On Isabella Mosi´s comment:
    First quote is tricky, cause it seems true at first glance. Reading it twice, you will find that it is a retoric trick device; a statement with an, seemingly, untochtable punchline but all in all a quote that offers a conclusion (“solution”) without reffering to or indicate the solemn base
    of ( quote quote:) “true self” on which a suggestion is possible. It is a socalled “inbetweener”, often allowed as defence by the school of Sofism.
    She is using the conclution by escaping definition and would according to ancient greek practice be silenced by the question: Cynthia Jane Collins: What is “our true selves”?

  2. skovgaard

    On Isabella Mosi´s comment:
    First quote is tricky, cause it seems true at first glance. Reading it twice, you will find that it is a retoric trick device; a statement with an, seemingly, untochtable punchline but all in all a quote that offers a conclusion (“solution”) without reffering to or indicate the solemn base
    of ( quote quote:) “true self” on which a suggestion is possible. It is a socalled “inbetweener”, often allowed as defence by the school of Sofism.
    She is using the conclution by escaping definition and would according to ancient greek practice be silenced by the question: Cynthia Jane Collins: What is “our true selves”?

  3. skovgaard

    It´s weird, cause Eden Maxwell gives a solid introduction on addiction in terms of defining distance between him and the very addiction it self, LSD. I have never heard of anyone being addicted to this substance my self. I might be wrong. Anyway, LSD is no longer an issue amongst artists. So based on historic records in it quiet right to assume, that a person using LSD would aim at cosmic powers to expand his or her mind.
    The it all stumbles.
    I know of no artist, in fact no human including every inhabitant of Tibet with such a thing as inner harmony. This concept has no point and is
    perfectly useless unless you seek it. To be in a inner state of mind of harmony mat be performed in meditation. What the persona in tranche does, is – loyal to hubleness – maintain a lifelong mental/embodied state of search. This is a approach to life which also absorbs the very exsistence who allows it to substain a day by month endurance yet allowing the attitude itself to a sort of generous virus, – that is,- ” if we all did so, the world is out of joint.”
    French poet Arthur N. Rimbaud wrote the famous line:”JE suis un autre”, meaning, that the “I” is no longer “I” as in ” I see”. He hinted at the fact that mental royalty, in his case the perfection of french litterature in France, anno 1870, take ten, given ten years, had stalled. By suggesting and allowing drugs to alter the mind was to become the a trend that historically ended with Jim Morrison.
    Alcohol, being the most poisining extract and yet allowed or available all over, is tolerated if not worshiped in most soecieties. The only perspective we don´t like about the uses of it, is when we find the individual consuming alone. Two men on a train having a drink at 11.30 am is not a disturbance. A man sitting in a park (or a train), having a drink is wrong, him having several is considered dangerous and pathetic. So what differs the perception of addiction, when looked upon or told on secondhand?
    The common view.

    Skovgaard, Danish composer, pardon my english.
    This will be continued. My “artistic” director is calling upon me. So much for the free mind.
    Directors cut.

  4. skovgaard

    It´s weird, cause Eden Maxwell gives a solid introduction on addiction in terms of defining distance between him and the very addiction it self, LSD. I have never heard of anyone being addicted to this substance my self. I might be wrong. Anyway, LSD is no longer an issue amongst artists. So based on historic records in it quiet right to assume, that a person using LSD would aim at cosmic powers to expand his or her mind.
    The it all stumbles.
    I know of no artist, in fact no human including every inhabitant of Tibet with such a thing as inner harmony. This concept has no point and is
    perfectly useless unless you seek it. To be in a inner state of mind of harmony mat be performed in meditation. What the persona in tranche does, is – loyal to hubleness – maintain a lifelong mental/embodied state of search. This is a approach to life which also absorbs the very exsistence who allows it to substain a day by month endurance yet allowing the attitude itself to a sort of generous virus, – that is,- ” if we all did so, the world is out of joint.”
    French poet Arthur N. Rimbaud wrote the famous line:”JE suis un autre”, meaning, that the “I” is no longer “I” as in ” I see”. He hinted at the fact that mental royalty, in his case the perfection of french litterature in France, anno 1870, take ten, given ten years, had stalled. By suggesting and allowing drugs to alter the mind was to become the a trend that historically ended with Jim Morrison.
    Alcohol, being the most poisining extract and yet allowed or available all over, is tolerated if not worshiped in most soecieties. The only perspective we don´t like about the uses of it, is when we find the individual consuming alone. Two men on a train having a drink at 11.30 am is not a disturbance. A man sitting in a park (or a train), having a drink is wrong, him having several is considered dangerous and pathetic. So what differs the perception of addiction, when looked upon or told on secondhand?
    The common view.

    Skovgaard, Danish composer, pardon my english.
    This will be continued. My “artistic” director is calling upon me. So much for the free mind.
    Directors cut.

  5. isabella mori

    @skovgaard you always bring up interesting points, and sometimes i get a bit confused. can i tell you what i hear you saying here?

    “I know of no artist, in fact no human including every inhabitant of Tibet with such a thing as inner harmony. This concept has no point and is perfectly useless unless you seek it. To be in a inner state of mind of harmony mat be performed in meditation. What the persona in tranche does, is – loyal to hubleness – maintain a lifelong mental/embodied state of search. This is a approach to life which also absorbs the very exsistence who allows it to substain a day by month endurance yet allowing the attitude itself to a sort of generous virus, – that is,- ” if we all did so, the world is out of joint.”

    my tentative understanding:

    i know of no-one with inner harmony. “inner harmony” is not an end point; you can only seek it. inner harmony can be experienced in meditation. what the person in trance does is to maintain a lifelong search. this search is a sort of “good virus”. (i can’t understand what you mean by the world being out of joint in this context)

  6. isabella mori

    @skovgaard you always bring up interesting points, and sometimes i get a bit confused. can i tell you what i hear you saying here?

    “I know of no artist, in fact no human including every inhabitant of Tibet with such a thing as inner harmony. This concept has no point and is perfectly useless unless you seek it. To be in a inner state of mind of harmony mat be performed in meditation. What the persona in tranche does, is – loyal to hubleness – maintain a lifelong mental/embodied state of search. This is a approach to life which also absorbs the very exsistence who allows it to substain a day by month endurance yet allowing the attitude itself to a sort of generous virus, – that is,- ” if we all did so, the world is out of joint.”

    my tentative understanding:

    i know of no-one with inner harmony. “inner harmony” is not an end point; you can only seek it. inner harmony can be experienced in meditation. what the person in trance does is to maintain a lifelong search. this search is a sort of “good virus”. (i can’t understand what you mean by the world being out of joint in this context)

  7. skovgaard

    Dear Mori, – you have to keep in mind, that I think in nine different tounges. Du forstÃ¥r ikke en skid af dette, gør du?
    That´s Danish.
    German, French – you name it. And above it all, the dialect of music.
    I´ll cut to the bone. It might be yet another Jesse James approach to life, but I – actually – don´t give a shit. My Blue Cut Valley is as good as the next one.
    The main point is the state of sleeping, – this weird, shadowfollowed way of pre- death. I do not speak as an addict, I cannot be one. How could I? I use drugs, buying comfort. The most dangerous word in this world is “vanity”.
    It takes the cake. Comfort. vanity.
    Religion is a parasite. OCD is very related to this. Its a way of performing life, controled by a certain set of rituals. Parade. Of guard. On guard. Skovgaard. No one ever pops the question why. They protect. Of cause they do.
    Everybody fucking refers to harmony without proof. Proof is unfair.
    Ergo is harmony a stone upon a stone.
    Edgar Allan Poe wrote, that writing a small book called ” My Heart” was the way to fame. That´s vanity. Fair.
    When I drink, its vanity.
    As soon as you respond to this its vanity and there is absolutely nothing fair about it.
    The generous virus is believing. It takes different forms; 9/11, a poem by Auden, the quest of the crusaders. We all burn and we burn willingly cause we protect the dimention of intermacy. Submitting this is a shame to my name. I do not care. Thats an attitude. No way, we´ll escape this without being alive. Morrison got to close the lanquage. A munk in Tibet never mentions it. Alike?
    The same.
    Napoleon: 1769-1821.
    Nietzche: 1844-1900
    Dante: 1265-1321
    Beethoven: 1770-1827
    Kurt Cobain: 1967 – 1994. The number 23.
    My brain does not control anything unless I destroy it.
    This is my religion. Not Trivial Pursuit.
    Byron:” My best and most gifted fiend drowned in a pitt of mud”.
    So
    the world is out of joint.

  8. skovgaard

    Dear Mori, – you have to keep in mind, that I think in nine different tounges. Du forstÃ¥r ikke en skid af dette, gør du?
    That´s Danish.
    German, French – you name it. And above it all, the dialect of music.
    I´ll cut to the bone. It might be yet another Jesse James approach to life, but I – actually – don´t give a shit. My Blue Cut Valley is as good as the next one.
    The main point is the state of sleeping, – this weird, shadowfollowed way of pre- death. I do not speak as an addict, I cannot be one. How could I? I use drugs, buying comfort. The most dangerous word in this world is “vanity”.
    It takes the cake. Comfort. vanity.
    Religion is a parasite. OCD is very related to this. Its a way of performing life, controled by a certain set of rituals. Parade. Of guard. On guard. Skovgaard. No one ever pops the question why. They protect. Of cause they do.
    Everybody fucking refers to harmony without proof. Proof is unfair.
    Ergo is harmony a stone upon a stone.
    Edgar Allan Poe wrote, that writing a small book called ” My Heart” was the way to fame. That´s vanity. Fair.
    When I drink, its vanity.
    As soon as you respond to this its vanity and there is absolutely nothing fair about it.
    The generous virus is believing. It takes different forms; 9/11, a poem by Auden, the quest of the crusaders. We all burn and we burn willingly cause we protect the dimention of intermacy. Submitting this is a shame to my name. I do not care. Thats an attitude. No way, we´ll escape this without being alive. Morrison got to close the lanquage. A munk in Tibet never mentions it. Alike?
    The same.
    Napoleon: 1769-1821.
    Nietzche: 1844-1900
    Dante: 1265-1321
    Beethoven: 1770-1827
    Kurt Cobain: 1967 – 1994. The number 23.
    My brain does not control anything unless I destroy it.
    This is my religion. Not Trivial Pursuit.
    Byron:” My best and most gifted fiend drowned in a pitt of mud”.
    So
    the world is out of joint.

  9. skovgaard

    And now, if you would pleas excuse me, I have a opera to write.
    I know.
    You know that the Stars were never what we supposed they would be.
    Of cause not.
    Sorry.

  10. skovgaard

    And now, if you would pleas excuse me, I have a opera to write.
    I know.
    You know that the Stars were never what we supposed they would be.
    Of cause not.
    Sorry.

  11. Alcoholic Artist

    I just want to echo something Lorna said in one of the first comments. I, too, am a recovering alcoholic and artist. It is also my experience that I could produce very little of quality while I was drinking (which I guess is to be expected for a blackout drinker). There is a major stigma that artists are drunks and addicts- and that intoxication is some part of the creative process. I have found this to be quite untrue for myself and for many other people in recovery.

  12. isabella mori

    thanks for contributing to the conversation!

    here’s a question, though. if you say that intoxication is NOT part of the creative process, why do you call yourself “alcoholic artist”?

  13. skovgard

    Dear Isabella. Happy new year.
    It has been a while since entered this site. I find it under the protection of Lazarus. Now, in Danish, we use the term as There is a major stigma that artists are drunks and addicts- and that intoxication is some part of the creative process. I have found this to be quite untrue for myself and for many other people in recovery. This is a crusade.
    Diagnosed with liver cancer, I don´t have time for alcohol. But one thing is for sure. When they say the words, I am gonna be a drunken angel, smoking, joking – Man!
    I am only 41. I never knew it would come to this.
    Yours Skovgard, Danish Composer.

  14. grachus

    hello i really enjoyed reading these comments. i am now watching my own drinking habits. i had a driving accident recently a rental car too, i wasnt driving at the time but it was my car rental and i did start the car and give it over to a friend to drive. he unfortunately was not a good driver and drunker then me i found.
    i try to play and write music in my house but also drink there alot. so now i have to examine how the drinking helps and hinders me. more the later.i have been a actor and clown and now a phone man but always thought of art and alchol together. i now am seeking to change that to be a sober addiction artist because i want to understand my self better. i need to for the accident showed me i dont want to be a tragic hero but i want to be a heroic artist. i want to survive life not be devored by its addictions.
    drinking can be like inspiration. it takes you places you wouldnt normally or soberly go
    but inspiration can be found in sobriety when you hug your children and wife and family and see the sky when you realize drink could have taken it all away from you as the car hit a tree.

    life sometimes offers us a new perspective not just art.

    thanks for your page

  15. Lew

    There is tragedy on this page. I hope Skovgard has recovered. I too have my own recurring drinking problems. I am torn between wanting this problem, as the martyr, and having no control of the situation. When it appears that I have control it is only a momentary illusion. It is when I tell myself I want this addiction, like the Romantics, Jack London, Hemingway, Dylan Thomas et al before me, that I create the illusion. The truth is I am trapped – for many reasons.

    There is a definite stigma of art and drink or drugs, but, the fact remains, a man will struggle to force this malady upon himself. It is hard work to drink heavily – for those who may try, making myths, with the fancy of matyrdom in their thoughts. It takes years to truly fall under its spell. My point being that an artist cannot force himself to be this way if not so inclined, so the stigma is largely void, in my opinion.

    I think I probably wrote more coherently whilst I was inebriated – with odd exceptions. Now, when I begin a new story, I make a point of abstaining. Still I drink as much in these periods, it seems to give me licence to hit it hard post work, and the truth is I need to wind down. When I am not working, it is boredom that fills me with the need to have a glass of vodka in my hand, or else has me searching for some other drug, and often I use both.

    Then there are the moments when I try and die to give up. Sometimes I give it up for a month, once every couple of years or so, sometimes I’m on a psychiatric ward. My life is a constant battle, and, when I rest from this fight, I drink.

    I hope all are well, or as well as they can be.

  16. alex

    Hi.
    My name is Alexander.
    Morten Skoffgaard passed away three months ago.
    I was and I still am his webmaster.
    He did not make it.
    I am sorry.
    Alex.

  17. isabella mori

    hello alex –

    i am confused … morten still has a profile on facebook where he seems very much alive. also, i cannot see anything on the web that says that he’s passed on. are there perhaps two morten skovgaards who are musicians?
    .-= isabella mori (@moritherapy)´s last blog ..researching motivation =-.

  18. Lew

    If that’s so, I’m truly sorry. He seemed an interesting person, and I looked him up on google to try find his music. I have to say, I saw nothing of this news either.

  19. isabella mori

    while we wait to hear about morten … (and send him good wishes, wherever he is) …

    welcome, grachus and lew. thank you for your true words.

    it would be interesting to see how things come along for the both of you.

    how to uncouple truly deep experiences – inspiration, relaxation – from alcohol? and do you WANT to uncouple them?

    in overeaters anonymous, there is a saying, “nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels.”

    it SOUNDS good, and obviously for many people it is true – but what if you haven’t gotten to that point (yet?) where abstinence or sobriety truly feels good? that good feeling, i would imagine, would include the ability to artistically create, to wind down, etc. – without needing to drink.

    i’m looking forward to the continuation of this conversation.

  20. Pingback: alcohol, art, sobriety and escape

  21. Pingback: the definition of addiction

  22. kinderio

    This is a general comment to this blog string. I typed “alcoholism mental illness and the artist” to Google the other day, that led me here, the conversation here has given me a lot to think about! That Google entry describes me…well a few aspects of me, I’m a mother, gardener, constant reader of every genre in my local library, etc….I am yin and yang, jekyll and hyde. I am an Artist genetically from birth or maybe as a God given gift, I don’t know. I am also an alcoholic. Possibly I am a bit Bi-polar, possibly a little OCD, I say possibly because no one who knows me (social avoidance…not very many people know me) can tell. I’m trying figure myself out and I would like gain control of myself.

  23. Lew

    Hey there, K. ‘Social avoidance:’ I am very much of the same sway. In what ways are you OCD and bipolar, is it linked to alcohol, or something else?

  24. Kourtney

    I myself have suffered from addiction to drugs and alcohol, and was under the dillusion that I created more profound art while I was under the influence of drugs/alcohol. However, Once I got sober, I continued my art, and found that sobriety did not hinder my ability to write, be creative and create art. In fact, it improved it.

  25. Andrew

    I have to second what Kourtney just posted. I used ot work in a Malibu Sober Living and have met many creative individuals who discovered a new lucidity and productivity in sobriety. Then again these were chronic alcoholics – the occasional drinker might have more luck with the creative spark and alcohol 🙂

  26. lew

    Hell, I don’t know anymore. I feel like I’m dying. In both senses. Christ, I’m lost in some loop of booze. The trouble is I’m not a bad drunk – I’ll never be saved.

    Apologies for the self-pity. I’ll regret it in the morning.

    Lew

  27. nora

    I think that the link between writers/ artists and alcohol or drugs is simple: we love to escape. The world is a strange, beautiful and very painful place.

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