The Artistic Temperament is a Disease

“The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, the very great artists are able to be ordinary men – men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art.” ~GK Chesterton, Heretics, 1905

A Facebook friend (and one from whom I learn much) posted this Chesterton quote in a debate thread.

It explains a lot (the quote, not the debate). I find it healthful to “utter the art from within;” however I fail to utter more often than I do utter. I aspire to write, and do so, but I don’t write more often than I do write. Such is the tired refrain of many so-called and self-referenced “aspiring writers.” We want to write, but don’t, and perhaps from that comes this “artistic temperament,” one of “vanity or violence or fear?” Vanity: the desire for the “writing life;” violence: the resulting self-loathing and esteem-reduction from failing to do what you’re supposed to; fear: fear of failure, that of discovering that you are horrible at writing, and maybe fear of success?

The funny thing is that I find writing to be therapeutic. I feel better after having done so and thus become the “sane man” when I “utter the art from within.” This partly stems from a feeling of accomplishment. “Hey, I wrote today!” Partly it comes from just the emotional and psychological release.

Perhaps this is a successor to my alcoholism. I knew I should stop drinking and why, but I feared doing so. I also lacked the strength or will to stop. I only did so because no other choice was offered. I was unable to physically go and replenish my stock and thus found myself in the hospital with DT’s. If I continued, I would die. So maybe the choice was helped along.

The parallel to writing? “No other choice but to write.” I have to develop the “sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in” my “being.” And I have to associate this need with sanity and survival.

I am a writer, it is what I (should) do, and to not do it is a type of death.

Interesting notion; now let’s see me put it to use.

From Isaac Asimov:

“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”

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8 Responses to The Artistic Temperament is a Disease

  1. judyferg says:

    Much to reflect on here – thank you for sharing!

  2. Leslie says:

    Oh that Chesterton – he never fails to get me a’Thinkin!

  3. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Well said! I love the Chesterton quote. For me, right now in my spiritual journey, God is requiring quite the opposite, though- not to release the writer in me, but that I give up all the self-title(s) I’ve held so dear- writer being one of them- and become…. well, simply His child. In the end, I am nothing more than that. Teacher? Artist? Writer? Musician? Even mother? I’ve been reading St. Therese (the Little Flower), which set me pondering these things. I don’t have the exact quote for you, but in effect what she said is that she aspires to be forgotten; that her name would no longer be attached to her works, but when people see them, they only see God. THAT is a hard thing for us creative types!

    • I love St. Therese. Perhaps “love” is your vocation, like hers was.

      As children of God, we reflect Him as we are made in His image. We can get ourselves out of the way, so others only see Him in us.

  4. Brian Gill says:


    Wow. loved it.

    My ‘artistic temperament’ shows up in the Narcissus-X blog (completely devoted to Narcissus-X). ( )

    That mercifully-fictional ‘artist’ doesn’t suffer for his art, so much as force others to suffer. 😉

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