At first glance, it might seem that an artist who manages to achieve significant success might reduce his risk factors for addiction, since now he has fewer money worries and is less plagued by the chronic unemployment issues and chronic career pressures that challenge most artists. Yet while some risk factors may have been reduced, many new risk factors enter the equation—so many so that it is fair to say that career success for an artist increases rather than decreases his risk for addiction.
What are these new risk factors? Here are thirteen of them:
1. The fear that success will be taken away from you by another artist, by changing tastes, or even by one wrong remark. A successful artist tends to remember crystal clearly what his life was like before his success. Will a single show where nothing sells end his career?
2. The realization that nothing has really gotten easier. It is still hard to paint and still hard to live. A successful artist may well have his hopes dashed that with success his creative life or his “real” life got any easier.
3. The necessity that you repeat yourself because that’s what your audience wants. You may experience a deep sense of boredom as your audience demands that you give them your signature pumpkin painting or abstracted landscape.
4. The loss of genuine relationships in the face of the cult of celebrity. It is very hard for non-celebrities to be “real” around celebrities, which is an alienating experience for successful artists.
5. The mythology around alcohol and drugs and the belief that they are necessary, even essential, to the creative process and the creative lifestyle.
6. Survivor guilt coupled with a sense of the absurdity (and maybe the immorality) of fame. As wonderful as huge paychecks and the perks of celebrity status are, they can also be experienced as unseemly, embarrassing, and even downright immoral.
7. The omnipresence of drugs, alcohol, and sex in a successful artist’s life: being gifted drugs; being gifted sex; the never-ending parties; and the other perks of celebrity.
8. The pressure to top yourself while still producing your signature work. It is a very odd and taxing conflict to want to do new, better, and different work when you know that your galleries and your collectors want your signature work.
9. Having the financial resources and the connections to access drugs and alcohol. As a struggling artist, maybe you drank cheap wine: now you can afford the most expensive—and dangerous—drugs around.
10. Feeling disenchanted because you are now inside and see how the business operates, what compromises are regularly made, the level of cynicism displayed by marketplace players, etc.
11. Feeling like an imposter (known as “imposter syndrome”) and fearing that your success will be taken away from you just as soon as “they” see through you—which you fear may happen any day.
12. Growing more narcissistic, more egotistical, more grandiose, and edging into ever-greater denial about your drug and drinking habits, in part because the people around you are now sycophantic and obliging to a fault.
13. Experiencing new, more powerful existential problems as you realize that, despite your hope that life would finally feel meaningful once you achieved success, your life actually feels less meaningful than it did before. Before you were waging “the good struggle”—now repetition and boredom have set in.
The French novelist Albert Camus remarked, “When he is recognized as a talent, the creator’s great suffering begins.” This may sound like a self-serving exaggeration, yet it is clearly the case—just look at the headlines every single day. Many successful artists find success dangerous and regularly succumb to addictive behaviors. We should stop shaking our head and asking ourselves, “Why would someone with so much success have so much trouble with drugs and alcohol?” The above are thirteen unlucky reasons why.