Can Doubt Foster Creativity?

STUDIO VIEW tracks the evolution of my own songs from concept to reality through videos, sound bytes, pictures and words.  It won’t always be pretty, and it most definitely won’t be polished, but I hope you will be inspired by an honest, unedited view of the rigors and rewards of creating.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is its twin brother.”—Kahlil Gibran

Artist, Vincent Van Gogh

Artist, Vincent Van Gogh

Do sad people write better songs?  When creative minds exploit existence for the sake of art, it’s a no-holds-barred, excavation of the heart, funneled into verses, stanzas, symphonies, sonatas and paint.  Nothing is exempt—least of all, misery.

One of my favorite poets, Madeline L’Engle, aptly identified the internal struggle within artists as "a battleground, [with] a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.”

Vincent Van Gogh, Ludwig van Beethoven, Emily Dickinson--all brilliant creative minds, each one plagued by sadness.  Is there a connection between depressive tendencies and creative ones?

famous depressed songwriters

famous depressed songwriters

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Nick Drake

Nick Drake

Elliot Smith

Elliot Smith

I, myself, have struggled with an inability to dissociate depression from creativity.  Once, while devoured by a deep and pervasive sadness, which gripped me for the better part of a year, I wrote a novel (ironically, it was titled, “The Optimist”), and recorded four tapes of songs (back when a four-track tape recorder was the prize of my studio).   I also thoroughly self-medicated, sidestepping strong convictions to lust after the thrill of raw creative output.

When self-destructive habits began to threaten my personal health and damage deep relationships beyond reconciliation, I quit—everything.  The novel remains unfinished.  The tapes have been discarded.  I work in a church where my faith is watered, and I care about my family more than my art.  I’m happy for this and I have no desire to return to the “dark days” in terms of habits.  Yet, I still long to create quality art that is honest.  This, I believe, will never change.

Even now, my personal songs come from places of intense doubt and longing.  Every lyric I pen is a measurement of faith towards heaven in a hellish world.  My work unapologetically correlates with my beliefs.  Faith and doubt are the most important, and painfully honest, things I can write about.

My band, Beggars Made Believers, is the perfect outlet for these types of ruminations.  As my heart unravels, threatening mutiny against my mind, songwriting cuts deep into my existence and allows space for processing doubt and fear.  One of my songs, “To Know The Wounds”, is an attempt towards capturing the darkness I’ve personally felt in the midst of suffering and disobedience.   I penned these lyrics in order to discern a proper perspective of God beyond affliction:

My strength wears thin/ my steps turn from the light/ I dare forget my God to make a bed of lies/ with twisted thoughts/ and a fist turned towards the sky/ Dressed in rage/ I blame the One who saves

Would I deny the depth of my own sin? / And turn my face from grace again?

Break me down/ remind me who I am/ A sinner saved by grace/ you’ve called me to walk by faith/ but I’ve lost my way God/ Oh Lord let me touch Your side/ To know and to feel the wounds/ and no longer seek the proof/

That Christ who died is risen from the grave/ to bring man into the light of grace/ Forgive my sin/ restore the fires of faith/ that stir my heart to burn with praise/ for You

(Let the people sing) Praise the Father/ praise the Son/ praise the Holy Ghost

American philosopher Irwin Edman wrote, “For many people, it is literature rather than life that teaches them what their native emotions are.”  For me, the biblical narrative communicates a beautiful synergy between literature and life.   I see myself in the story of Thomas, the disciple who, as he beheld the resurrected Christ, needed to touch the wounds of Jesus in order to believe that He who had died had truly risen from the dead.

Like Thomas, my own doubt continually draws me forward to exact truth from experience.  The song, “To Know the Wounds”, means to tell the story of disbelief stepping towards deliverance.  Here’s a video clip:

I’ve experienced that where doubt deepens the well of what can be realized, faith anchors my descent into the darkness. [TWEET]Faith expands to give doubt its breathing room.  In this way, I can still venture into the unknown crevice of creative possibility, because every faculty of my being is charged with the hope of being able to see it through.

Have you ever experienced a direct correlation between depression and creative output in your life?  If so, how have you dealt with it?  Feel free to post your thoughts below, and be on the lookout for a brand new STUDIO VIEW post next week where I will unveil another new Beggars Made Believers song in progress.

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