The Tormented Artist Archetype (RIP Whitney Houston)

The Tormented Artist Archetype (RIP Whitney Houston)

"There are few voices that rise to the level of an instrument. Her vocals were truly expressions of artistry."

Tonight as I absorb the loss of Whitney Houston, who died this evening, after years of suffering from various self-confessed addictions, such as cocaine addiction, I am haunted by how much true artistry often dovetails with emotional trauma.

I know the archetype of the crazed or melancholic artist is cliché, but there is some truth in it.  I'm not even sure one who is lacking in emotional damage can fully reach the threshold of an artist.

From Van Gogh to Elvis to Kurt Cobain to Michael Jackson to Whitney, we have seen in history and in modern times the parallel existence of tormented minds and artistic genius. The two feed one another.

The word artist is bandied about too liberally these days for people who are mere entertainers. Entertainers don't need pain; they need only hype and spectacle. They need handlers who teach them how to be cool and how to market their images.

The true artist feels deeply. Their emotions are hauntingly deep and it is that depth that allows such rich creations as they translate their inner sentiments into songs, paintings, sculpture or other artistic forms. Their soul is the spectacle and they often wear it publicly, vulnerably.

I wish Whitney could have been healed from her obvious suffering as we watched her shrink to a skeleton, enroll in addiction recovery and divorce from enabler and fellow drug user Bobby Brown. However, perhaps her voice would not have been the powerhouse instrument it was had her soul be perfectly normal and at ease.

There are few voices that rise to the level of an instrument. Her vocals were truly expressions of artistry.

Here's my favorite performance ever. It's of Whitney Houston opening up the American Music Awards in 1992. She sang four live songs with perfect and masterful delivery. She did  not need to lip sync or have a backing track. It's just pure vocal art. And it remains the most powerful live performance I've ever heard.