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I work with recovering addicts every day. Some of them are incredibly creative, brilliant and accountable…some are not. Some seem like they have it all together reaching years of sobriety and creative heights only to disappoint us all by relapsing destroying everything they’ve work so hard to build. It’s both heartbreaking and infuriating.
I do not have any addictions to drugs or alcohol but I have made bad choices over the years which I ended up paying dearly for. So I understand when one of my staff goes rogue. Not Sarah Palin rogue…criminal rogue. This week one of our top creatives suffered  a relapse that shook everyone. It caused me concern because I thought members of our staff may be adversely affected. And to be honest some were very upset. But none checked out. We discussed it for a couple hours then we all pulled together and got back to work with a renewed energy that inspired new and better creativity than I’d seen in a while.
This morning I thought why not write something about drugs and art and how one affects the other. In my line of work art or exercising your creativity is used to help people recover from addiction and drug use. I googled drugs and art and I found this art and article written about Brian Saunders. The article explains how Saunders used drugs to create the art picture here. His explanation of the process and his reasoning about the value of using the drugs to enhance the art is just plain silly or brilliant PR to get the work noticed. Frankly I’m not convinced he couldn’t’ve created equally compelling images just thinking about the drugs and drawing a self-portrait based on sober thoughts.
What bothers me about this is the thought that someone reading this may think it’s ok to use drugs to “explore my creativity”. I’m a child of the late sixties early seventies and I understand that philosophy. It doesn’t fly well in the real world as I found out. Many of my friends who used drugs for the exact reason Saunders did are no longer around to explore anymore. It’s not ok and I’m not good with this self-centered mode of expression that adds distructive behavior to the creative process. Too many artists have fallen prey to this thinking and they are no longer around to gift us with their talents. Think Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Basquiat etc.
So I look at Saunders work and I think yeah it’s good but I’ve created work that has explored my subconscious without taking drugs as I’m sure many others have. So what’s the value of this art?  I sincerely don’t know. All I see is a PR grab to promote artwork that is ho-hum. If you have feelings about this let me know.
Ativan / Haloperidol (doseage unknown in hospital)
Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 caps onset)

It’s a topic that’s inspired endless debate–the link between art and creativity and brain-altering chemicals. Usually, the drugs are a lifestyle choice of “creative” types. In the case of artist Bryan Lewis Saunders, they were a key part of the process and end product.


Saunders, a performance and visual artist, undertook a high profile experiment in creativity, starting several years ago whereby, according to the artist, he created a series of self-portraits, each one done under the influence of a different substance–pretty much an A to Z assortment, from prescription meds like Abilify and Xanax to crystal meth. Over the weeks he’d create amazing pieces, suffer mild brain damage and end up hospitalized–all for the sake of art and creation.

In many cases, when looking at the resulting images, one can quickly make the connection between the listed drug and the output–certain pieces look like our perceived reactions to certain drugs. I asked Saunders about this effect, and how people might not be totally convinced that the output was drug-induced.

“Self-portraiture is biased in its very nature,” says Saunders. “The more informed the bias the more interesting the image is, usually. Memories, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, behaviors are all but impossible to separate from the making of a self-portrait. If I was to attempt to render the same exact image on each different substance in essence denying what the drug means to me personally, the only thing I would be expressing were the degrees in which my motor skills, or visual processes were effected thus entirely undermining the purpose of doing a self-portrait in the first place.”


In other words, as Saunders points out, considering that there are preconceptions of cognitive impact of each drug, if they didn’t factor into the self-portrait then he would be denying his conscious and subconscious impulses. If he attempted to make each portrait the same, then the only thing affected each time would be his motor skills. Instead, he let the drugs drive his creative–including the preconceived behaviors and notions contained within.

While this was all done in the name of art, Saunders is quick to say that the drug use is nothing to be proud of. “To be honest I’m not proud to be on any drugs in any pictures. I think drugs make me look really ugly. And I’m really a six trick pony, but the world only likes one of my tricks. Each year 500,000 kids around the world discover drugs and so the virus never dies.”

Saunders, who started creating a self-portrait a day in 1995, has done over 8,600 self-portraits (most of them drug-free). He plans on displaying the drug series at Paris’ La Maison Rouge next spring.

FLYBOY.100_2699As I postscript I’m adding a piece of art I did trying to free myself from the constraints of specific design or illustration instruction. In other words my method of tapping my unconscious without any drugs or alcohol.