Arts and depression

Two books I’m in the midst of reading combine to raise questions about the future of art and audiences.

The first, “Against Happiness,” posits that our society’s increased emphasis on smoothing over the rough edges of life (through pharmaceuticals and other means) could ultimately kill our creative spirit.

To back up his claim, author Eric Wilson offers a litany of creations—from Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”—that wouldn’t exist if its creators weren’t down in the dumps. And the list goes on: Beethoven. Plath. Van Gogh. Not a particularly happy lot.

Then there’s Daniel S. Burt’s “The Drama 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Plays of All Time,” which is bound to provoke argument or dismissal from theater lovers (How, for instance, do you decide where “Angels in America” stands in comparison to “A Raisin in the Sun” or “Glengarry Glen Ross”?)

But, that being said, let’s look at some of Burt’s top choices—“King Lear,” “Hamlet,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Medea”… You’d be hard-pressed to find a smile in the bunch.

So do artistic greatness and depression go hand in hand?

More personally, when you go out for a night of theater, is it harder for you to get motivated to see something that isn’t likely to be fun?

And do you find yourself more resistant to depressing shows now than you did years ago?

Your thoughts?

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.