Tortured Artists by Christopher Zara (2012)
by Christopher Zara
Illustrations by Robbie Lee
Adams Media, 2012
From Picasso and Monroe to Warhol and Winehouse, the Twisted Secrets of the World’s Most Creative Minds
Are the most creative minds also the most disturbed? We are familiar with the tragic deaths of many of our pop culture heroes at a young age (Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger), and often their emotional struggles come into the limelight when such tragedy strikes. But even those who did not leave at such an early age (Johnny Cash, Charles M. Schulz, Michelangelo, etc.) had their own personal demons. Cash’s brother died at a young age, an event that grieved the singer deeply and created a deep sense of guilt, though he was not personally responsible (despite what his father said). Yet that suffering could have been the motivation behind Cash’s continual desire to please his father through his success.
Tortured Artists explores the connection between insanity (or, at least, personal tragedy) and creativity. Zara provides case studies of celebrities who suffered as children, those who faced more than the average difficulties of a teenager, and others whose obstacles continued into adulthood. Living artists profiled include James Cameron, Madonna, and J.K. Rowling – though they are included in the most questionable chapter in the book. Does arrogance and the need to control fall under the heading of “tortured,” or is it simply arrogance and the need to control?
Each profile includes a sketch of the artist portrayed, illustrated by Robbie Lee. While it is doubtful anyone considers these “high art” (though the caricatures are quite good), the question must be asked, “Is Lee tortured?”
At the end of the book, Zara provides a timeline of birthdates, deathdates, and dates of some significance. Violence, drug abuse, and suicide are common themes in the timeline, from cave paintings to Dana Plato to Evelyn Nesbit to Spalding Gray.
Zara writes, “Ultimately, I wanted Tortured Artists to comprise the broadest sampling of eras and artistic genres possible, without telling the same repetitive stories about poor alcoholics whose mothers never lvoed them.” He accomplishes this goal, featuring actors, authors, comedians and musicians with compelling stories that seem to lend credibility to the idea that yes, there is insanity in creativity.