The Burden of Genius

Extremely moved by the death of Malik Bendjelloul – he of Searching for Sugarman fame and Oscar.

Let’s discuss this elephant in the room: we are losing some of our brightest and best storytellers – film makers, writers, photographers, musicians – to suicide. Mental illness is killing our artists. And here is the crux: failure could have kept them safe. But they did not fail.

Look, I don’t know the first thing about Bendjelloul’s mindset or his death. I am referencing a trend here. And his facts fit: passionate creative perseveres, overcoming all the odds to be a surprise phenomenon. Success on a significant scale. Widely lauded, he has the world at his feet, and then he chooses to end it all. (Some go directly, others through a tortuous masochism of drugs or booze.)

This is not logical. There is something more. There is the weight of our expectations. Of our perceived impending criticism. There is the weight of the genius mantle. The fear of failure may initially hold the artist back. But, post-success, comes the fear of being found wanting. Or worse: the fear of being found out, so much worse than not being found at all. The inner Calvinist critic-cum-torturer: “It wasn’t me that achieved that success. I don’t deserve the spoils. Soon they will find me out. I will be exposed as a fraud.”

This is a stress – no, a trauma – the less successful are spared.

So, dear writer, filmmaker, photographer, musician… Get real. Get off that artist pedestal. Find a pragmatic framework. I can recommend one, in fact. And, if you think you are too good for it, perhaps it’s the very medicine you need? You’re too good for the author of something as easy and mainstream as Eat Pray Love? You’re above such popular entertainment as TED? Fine. But if you have talent and have found some success, please watch this.

Or work out your own framework – the details don’t matter; the resolution does. And please talk about it. We have lost too many already.

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