Arts·Point of View

Depression and struggle are often romanticized — but what does that do to an artist's wellbeing?

Lindsey Addawoo: "We, as artists, give suffering so much credit for our work. It can be difficult deciphering who or what the ultimate source of our creativity is."

Lindsey Addawoo: 'We, as artists, give suffering so much credit for our work'

Crop of the album art for Adria Kain's DE{COM}PRESSED. (Adria Kain)

We live in a world where the preservation of art, particularly great art, is protected more than the actual artist themselves. Amadeus. Shakespeare. Van Gogh. All wondrous artists whose brilliant eclecticism shaped their respective cultures. They were also broke, wildly misunderstood and depressed.

In our modern day art world, we've become shamefully privy to many artists' rags-to-riches stories: SZA once posted that she used to pretend to be vegan to mask the fact that she only could afford bagged veggies. Princess Nokia bounced between foster homes and Harlem streets. Toronto's very own Daniel Caesar couch surfed, sometimes spending nights on Trinity Bellwoods Park benches on Queen Street. And the list goes on.

And yet, some of the most meaningful work in the music industry is the direct result, if not physical manifestation, of struggle. Despite it all, they were able to beat the odds and not just survive, but thrive. But what about the artists who're still there? And more importantly, what does struggle do to an artist's mental wellbeing?

For some, it's sensitive. Misery begets art (and vice versa) until something snaps and we're changed for the better or worse. There's no denying the link between poor mental health and creativity — but as mental health shifts, so, inevitably, does the artistry. Thus begins a vicious cycle: the poorer the state of mind, the "better" the work is as both a result and a means of a way out.

Recording artists like Adria Kain know the relationship between mental health and creative freedom all too well. The Oakville native's latest EP, DE{COM}PRESSED, is a culmination of a relationship with depression. Through sonic storytelling (and accompanying Kahlil Joseph-esque visuals), Kain takes us on an auditory experience from childlike innocence to the return to one's self with melancholic melodies, low vibrations, and a reminder of the inevitable pain that is the human condition.

"Running away / To the open / To the other side / Why you wanna hide?" she sings. "And I know you really want it so bad / Running away won't get your life back."

There's no denying the link between poor mental health and creativity — but as mental health shifts, so, inevitably, does the artistry. Thus begins a vicious cycle: the poorer the state of mind, the 'better' the work is as both a result and a means of a way out.- Lindsey Addawoo , writer

By the end of the project, Kain asks herself what good there is in running away from herself. She's found a way to find the 'comfort' in depression — her own nirvana; a mental state of relief in the midst of a dark mental storm.

"That's the main reasons why I put the letters 'C O M' in brackets, because when you take those letters out, the only word that's left is 'depressed,'" she says.

"When you're going through things like depression, or even just anxiety — anything where you feel unattached to yourself — it's like your mind is all over the place and you're going through a million thoughts at once. Figure out one at a time what it is that you're going through so that you can understand: 'This is the reason why I feel this way.'"

In other words, work through it.

Adria Kain. (Adria Kain/Instagram)

We, as artists, give suffering so much credit for our work. It can be difficult deciphering who or what the ultimate source of our creativity is. Are we simply conduits of sorrow, driving ourselves through a congregation of sadness? Or are we able to orchestrate our steps in a way that balances our mental state and creative work? The answer is not that simple.

It isn't a fair argument to reduce art to nothing more than a physical manifestation of bad mental health. For some, great art requires a conscious decision to become a vessel for creativity, personal feelings or life's mishaps aside. It leads one to question: at what point can artists become responsible for themselves? For Kain, the answer is in the act of recording music.

We, as artists, give suffering so much credit for our work. It can be difficult deciphering who or what the ultimate source of our creativity is.- Lindsey Addawoo , writer

"It's definitely therapeutic," she says. "Music is something that I genuinely love. I'm very passionate about that. Tapping into that, for me personally, is self-care."

"I honestly feel like I'm at a place where no one can fuck with me regardless of how I'm feeling. I could feel up, I could feel down — I'm still going to flourish at the end of the day in major ways. I definitely think that when I'm in my darkest moments, I create my best work, but I don't think that I'm incapable of creating amazing work if I'm [having] a light moment." Kain continues.

It's easy to get caught up in the romanticism of depression, heartache and struggle through the vein of selling mental health for the sake of art.  

Adria's advice?

"If you get to a place where you're [creating] something and you can't figure out the rest of it, go experience life. Leave it alone; go do something. Go for a walk, go to a party, do whatever it is that you do with your life and then come back to it. If it's still a thing where you can't figure it out, then that [work] is not for you."

About the Author

Lindsey Addawoo is a Toronto-based writer and emerging filmmaker with a passion for all things TV, pop culture, and Beyoncé. In the past, she has contributed to various online publications such as VICE, ByBlacks.com, Global News, and ScreenCraft.

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