I find myself attracted to art that might be labeled “depressing.” Sometimes I fear I’m simply indulging my illness, looking for verification of the thought: “Life sucks and then you die.” In my sadness, the theory goes, I long for the sadness of others. Perhaps I’d be better off listening to Joel Osteen or binge-watching Little House on the Prairie.
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy modernist, I believe that art can change the world. This doesn’t mean paint puppies, rainbows and butterflies. Authentic art depicts things as they are, exposes them as being socially constructed rather than natural, and suggests alternative paths to freedom.
A big part of my depression involves my tendency to be self-critical. I’m always looking to improve, sometimes to the point of exhausting myself in the mythical pursuit of Perfection. My internal critique extends outward, into social and political spheres. I’m not content with accepting things at face value. I ask questions and search for inconsistencies between what people claim to believe and how they act.
I’m attracted to “depressing” art not because I’m looking for an alibi for my sadness, but instead because I’m unhappy with the status quo and want to uproot entrenched cultural assumptions. It goes beyond my depression or the somber nature of contemporary art.
It’s life that’s tragic. It’s life that’s unkind.