The relationship between bad habits and creative genius is well established, with Freud’s cocaine addictions paving the way to psychoanalysis, Francis Crick’s acid trip inspiring the double-helix shape of DNA, and Oscar Wilde’s notoriously pan-sexual promiscuity going hand-in-hand with his literary prowess. But having done with and without the many vices those prodigious in the creative arts are predisposed to, it’s very important to note that the preponderance of immoral behavior is not necessarily correlated to being a successful artist.
You could argue that the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who thrived on opium, hashish and the reputation of a poet maudit, a cursed poet, would not have had the insight of writing La Fleur du Mal if he hadn’t lived as wildly and irresponsibly as he had.
Would Baudelaire have been extolled by Flaubert as “unlike anybody else” if he hadn’t squandered half of his inheritance by attending to his bohemian urges? Perhaps not, but not every artist needs drugs to be great. M.C. Escher, one of the world’s most famous graphic artists, is credited of saying” I don’t use drugs; my dreams are frightening enough.”
Similarly, Isabel Allende, the acclaimed Chilean writer of several bestselling books, only took an hallucinogen once, and, although it did help her to crawl out of the writer’s block, she told The Telegraph that she would “never do it again.”
Additionally, most of the benefits of bad habits associated with creativity are harmful, which makes you wonder whether or not they are even worth it. Thus, finding a way to creatively express oneself just as effectively without resulting to shortcuts (and the karmic backlash they tend to come with!), could be very important to your well being, and also to your work. This is the art of sublimating sin.
SIN IN MODERATION
There can always be too much of a good thing, and it’s especially easy to get too much of a bad thing. For this reason, we should indulge in the vices of life in the same way a person might eat the frosting of a cake: never eat the frosting by itself (doing so will not only prove unsatisfying, but will make you sick to your stomach!), always eat more cake (virtue) than frosting. But try not to eat too much of either! Tthis brings to mind the jab “would you like coffee with your sugar?” You might be surprised to find that, if the cake is really good, it will taste much better without any frosting.
In conclusion: if you must commit to vice in order to be creative drink, but become inebriated socially and with nourishment, don’t do drugs, but if you must, take soft drugs, and do so only in small doses. Similarly when being promiscuous, be creative and exploratory about it, instead of just trying to “get off”. A cigarette will only get you high if you haven’t had one in a while, and sex is most gratifying to those who have it less. Delaying your gratification of such indulgences will not temper your creativity stimulus, but might actually help you to appreciate every moment more. I would like to leave you with a quote from the writer Rudyard Kipling:
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
You don’t need any other drugs: you are already holding the most potent one within you.
While the negative side-effects can be eliminated, such a feat requires a lot of self-regulation and responsibility on your part. Thus, in order to not fall pray of the throes of your vices, “use protection!” Surround yourself with people who care about you, and would help you if you strayed into the wrong path. Similarly, seek professional help if you find yourself sinking int a vicious cycle of negativity and lack of structure. Art is born out of chaos, but too much chaos results in death, both of the artist and of his work.
TURN VICE INTO VIRTUE
Sigmund Freud found that, out of all the defense mechanisms used to deal with internalized desires, sublimation – modifying the natural expression of an impulse or instinct [especially a sexual one] into one that is socially acceptable – proved to be one of the most mature and effective of strategies.
The reason? Sublimation allows a person to take a vice – a sin that is expressed at the expense of the well-being of oneself and/or others - and turn it into a virtue. When sublimated, the “sin” is expressed freely, but in a safe environment, such as the empty page that you can fill with all sorts of words and visions. Manifesting your creative impulses while expressing yourself in a productive, liberating, and constructive way will result into a happier life and an even greater quantity of writing you can choose from. Rather than wasting all that creativity on the feel-good freedom and empowerment of drugs, alcohol, and sex, do the smart thing, and channel it into your writing.
KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
To best benefit from your vices when you must have them, and to know the better alternatives when they exist (which they inevitably will!), knowledge really is power. By knowing the effects of your vices and what causes them, you’ll be able to effectively and consistently replicate those effects any way you choose. You don’t need alcohol to loosen up, nor do you need drugs to be high on life.
There are a myriad of mental tricks, self-affirmation, and living habits that can successfully give you the good feeling of just about every vice you can imagine, all through the fundamental basics of psychology and mental control. Learn to manipulate your brain functions at will, and you’ll never have to resort to any vice to think creatively again!
Even if you have no desire to quit your vices, knowing their effects, as well as the effects of the alternatives (socialization, self-improvement, physical activity, and a million more), allows you to fully benefit from both your vices and virtues.
This post is part of the Sublimating Sin series, which was written as a response to D.A. Blyler’s “The 7 Vices of Highly Creative People”
Valentina Nesci contributed to this article