How To Be Artfully Sad


One point on which we can all agree is if an artist is not sad at least eighty-five percent of the time, the art that the artist produces is hardly art at all.

You have seen, no doubt, the way a lifetime of destitution, sorrow and unrequited love can elevate works from “eh” to “’ey!” (“’ey” being short for “Hey!” as in “Hey! This is very good.”) Would we remember Van Gogh had he not torn off his ear in a fit of depressed insanity? Would anyone have read The Bell Jar had it been the happy tale of a happy woman satisfied with her happy lot in life? I will leave these question unanswered, for the answers is obvious.

But what if you’re a happy person who wants to make art? What if the hand of fate has been unkind in its kindness? What if that fickle dealer Destiny has flushed you with kings and queens alone, ignored your need for a life of twos and threes, of subjugation and pain?

Lucky for you, artistic sadness—like friendship, orgasms, and the Rhode Island State Driver’s License—can be easily faked to produce the desired outcome. And here is how you can do just that, in six easy steps.

1. Buy One Black T-Shirt

Even if you already own one, it is essential that you buy one* new black t-shirt. You may think of it as a symbolic gesture of a new beginning—a gift to yourself, and a message to the world: “Hello, world! I have just begun my journey of artistic sadness!”

It should fit you well, and “well” here means “poorly, in an very irreverent and counterculture way.” If you are a man, it should be tight, and a deep-V—a deep enough V to emphasize your Boreal forest of chest hair (“how manly! How Hemmingway!” they shall say) or lack thereof (“how androgynous! How modern!”) If you are a woman, you should probably buy one that is overlarge, to demonstrate how little you care about your appearance, which is a an important quality in someone who is artfully sad. Caring about your appearance tethers you to “society” and “society” is a garbage conspiracy by the oligarchical hegemony. 

(* Instructor’s Note: and I do mean just one t-shirt. This is to become your signature item, the outward representation of your soul’s blackening, and you must wear it as often as possible. Do not launder it. The artistically sad do not launder. The artistically sad launder only the world, and they do so with their tears, which fall from unclouded eyes upturned to a heaven which hovers on the horizon for their viewing alone. Keep it separate from your other laundry by never taking it off.)

2. Download Some Sad Music

“Sad music” is a genre of that can be broadly defined as “guitar music by singer-songwriters who have been dumped.” Plenty of these people have glasses, and a lot of them wrote songs in the 90s, which is totally relatable.

If you have not been in the habit of listening to sad music, then you might not be aware of the transformative quality that it can have. Sad music can turn a car ride on a rainy night into a heavy, Cannes-worthy tragedy. Sad music can turn a night of quiet, satisfied solitude into an endless twilight of writhing, existential terror.

Create a playlist of 20 – 30 sad songs. Once you have finished, put the songs onto your iPhone, grab some earbuds, and wait until sundown. Get aboard your nearest train or bus. Climb aboard and just go, dammit, just drive out of this town, man, just for one night. Sit in the back. Press your cheek to the heel of your palm and your forehead to the glass. Stare out at the world as it whurrs past, brushed golden in the fading light.

Mouth the lyrics to yourself if it helps: Only love is all maroon. / Gluey feathers on a flume. / Sky is womb and she’s the moon. Damn. Are you feeling sad yet?

Do this every day for four weeks.

3. Drink and Do Drugs

I mentioned before that sadness goes hand-in-hand with addiction and drinking problems. If you have not developed one by now, might I suggest you start?  Dorothy Parker, Andy Warhol, and the dude who did Howl were all notorious alcoholic rakes, and also notoriously good artists with plenty of sad, expensive art.

What kinds of alcohol and drugs you buy is flexible with your budget, but it is important that you depart from your usual consumptive habits. (Put down that craft beer! Stub out that marijuana cigarette! This is the big leagues!) This way, your friends will notice and ask questions.

If you are very serious, buy absinthe and cocaine. If you are worried about being evicted by your roommates, or are broke as hell, steal cigarettes from the bodega, and smoke them as you sit in your room or the bathtub in your underwear, puffing between deep, glugging swigs of lukewarm Old Steel Reserve.

Sit in lotus position on top of your duvet. Count the dots and cracks and holes on your ceiling. Give them names like friends, like stars. Only love is all marroon. Lapping lakes like leery loons. Leaving rope-burns, reddish ruse. Ah. The night sky.  What secrets are there in the hieroglyph of the stars? What mysteries are encrypted in the galactic array? Are we all not stars, seeming so close, and yet a million million million miles distant?

Mention what you drink and smoke and/or snort and/or shoot as often as possible to your friends. Mention it in a voice that is casual both and hollow—practice this in your bathroom mirror if you must. You should consume most of your drugs and alcohol alone in your apartment with the shades drawn, but should leave your rooms for a bender at least once, and that is so that you may complete Step 4.

4. Have a Casual Sexual Encounter with a Filthy Stranger, During Which You Smoke a Cigarette, Read Your Own Poetry, and Cry.


5. Develop a special musk

Developing a special musk is inevitable if you have followed fully the instructions above, but it does take time. You will notice about a week into your new lifestyle that your new t-shirt has begun to smell of sweat, dead skin-cells, and possibly mold and vomit and something more sinister. This first phase may be difficult. Do not relent. Do not wash it. Soon it will smell of cigarettes, too, and spilled liquor, and the city bus, and the filthy stranger from Step 4.

This is the goal. And at that point, people will begin to admire you.

Though it may seem disgusting, your musk is one of the most natural things about you. Skunks spray when they are in distress. Cats spray when they intend to fuck up the new blanket you ordered from Anthropologie with the gift card you got for your birthday. And artistic people sweat into t-shirts right before they make the best goddamned art of their goddamned lives. Your musk signifies something, too: it tells the world, “I am an artist, and I am sad.” Because that is what you are now, or are close enough to it.

6. Trash Your Entire Apartment

You know the old saying: to create, an artist must “have money, and a room of her own, and that room must be #rekt.” By now you have manipulated most of the most important variables for artistic sadness. But environment trumps all. You must trash your entire apartment, and transform it into a summer storm, where sadness is rain and chaos is wind and art is the nature what guides its path, bro.

For best results, wait until your roommates are out of the apartment. While they will soon be impressed by the depth of your creative suffering, they may be hesitant to see their Ikea end-table transformed to a pile of toothpicks. (Ah, the bourgeoisie. Some day, chérie, their eyes, they will open.)  

You will need: two cans of black paint, a hammer, ten ounces of bargain-bin vodka, and the hysteria of an animal trapped in this planet-sized cage, society. (You have already been cultivating the fourth item on the list, recall.)

If you’ve wallpaper, peel it off as best you can. Tear it in big, clumsy strips. Take the biggest knife you have and stab your favorite couch, right in the seat—sitting is comfort. Art is not comfortable. Remove all dishes from the cabinet and smash them on the floor: scatter the shards over the remaining couches. Smash a lamp, ideally at the television, because television is hell.

Open the paint can, clutch it to your chest tilted out, and spin in a circle. What paint clings to he side of the can, scoop it out with your hands and smear it upon the carpet, upon the moldings, upon yourself. Pat your hands dry on what remains of your hair. Repeat with the second can.

Clog the toilet with canvas. Rip the faucet from the wall. Smash the mirror with your fist.

Cross barefoot to your room. Retrieve your cigarettes and take them to the porch. Hunch your shoulders and lean against the railing, surveying the city as it spreads below you. Take a swig of vodka. Wipe your mouth with the back of your hand.

If you do not feel sad yet, repeat the steps until you do, for sadness is essential to good art.

And remember to pause to cry along the way.