Genius Under Influence, Or Postcards From The Trip

It is impossible to imagine a history of modern and contemporary literature without such glorious drug users figures as English essayist Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, French poet Charles Baudelaire’s Paradis Artificiels (Artificial Paradises), American writer William Burroughs, German writer Ernst Jünger

Jack Kerouac wrote his masterpiece On the Road while popping amphetamines non-stop for several days.

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same,” said Carlos Castaneda. We pretty much know what Carlos did from his The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and other books. He learned the use of hallucinogenic plants–peyote, jimsonweed, and a mushroom possibly containing psilocybinturned, turned into a crow, flew, fought with a diablera for his soul and such. Whether Carlos ate too many mushrooms or his books were a smart literary hoax is open to debate.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, sang the Beatles.  The  initials of the song’s title spell out what? LSD, right?

Stephen King spent most of the Eighties on an extended drug and alcohol binge.

Jean-Michel Basquiat needed heroin to draw or paint. But it is also worth remembering that it killed him.

Lee Child

Lee Child

And now yet another revelation. Lee Child, a famous British thriller writer, whose Jack Reacher novels are so successful that one is sold every two seconds, admits to his lifetime use of cannabis and the fact that he always writes while high on cannabis and hungry. The article’s title is pretty telling:  I’ve smoked cannabis five nights a week for 44 years and my dealer’s on speed dial’: Shock confession by bestselling thriller writer Lee Child. One of the readers commented that Mr. Child must’ve been smoking something stronger than marijuana to agree that Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher.  But that’s beside the point.

Austrian painter Arnulf Rainer used to draw under the influence of mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and hypnosis. 

Arnulf Rainer

Arnulf Rainer

To me — a forsworn art non-cognoscenti  — the artwork above (crayon on photo) looks exactly what it is — a good photograph obliterated beyond redemption by someone  overcome by psychotic rage. But then again, perhaps this piece of art is best viewed from within a trip. Still, would such experience be even worth a trip?

“The smell of opium is the most intelligent of all odors,” Pablo Picasso said to his fellow addict,  Jean Cocteau. I hope I’m not the only one out there who wouldn’t know.

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol

The poster above clearly suggests Salvador Dali was clean and sober most of the time, but perpetually high on himself. It seems that he never took LSD or other drugs for inspiration, but he did say, “Everyone should eat hashish, but only once.” Hashish can trigger hallucinations. God knows, Dali behaved in most bizarre ways most of the time, although he declared he did not use drugs. It must’ve been something else entirely that helped him release all that exuberance and creative energy…

Absinthe, cannabis, LSD or heroin… It certainly looks like a great number of humanity’s creative geniuses produced their greatest work as mind-altering substances did theirs. So then, is the oft-repeated hypothesis that various drugs liberate the creative powers by taking away inhibitions and stimulating artist’s minds  are all true?


A Paris exhibit tries to connects the dots. The Maison Rouge’s exhibition is the first foundation or museum to talk of art and drugs in such detail. It’s entitled  Under the Influence  and subtitled  Artists and Psychoactive Drugs. About 250 works of 91 artists are on view. Many famous artists are represented: Francis Picabia, Hans Bellmer, Jean Cocteau, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Gary Hill, Markus Raetz, and many others who aren’t quite as famous. The emphasis is  contemporary art and the emphasis is mostly on illegal drugs.

The catalog of the exhibit does its best to explain the difference between calming psycholeptics (opium, morphine, heroin), stimulating psychoanaleptics (cocaine, crack, amphetamines) and hallucinogens (defined as cannabis and LSD). Nice. Not everyone knows, regardless of exposure and experience.  Still, some viewers complained it was easy getting lost in the show and keep track who was using what to produce this or that.

A notable, colorful and quite peculiar contributions comes from U.S. performance artist  Bryan Lewis Saunders. He has produced a series of self-portraits under the influence of various substances, including prescription drugs, marijuana, valium, cough syrup and bath salts.

“After experiencing drastic changes in my environment, I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of the self. So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence…” 

It would be most enlightening if Lee Child shared his “visuals” and compare them with Bryan Saunders depiction of marijuana

G13 Marijuana

G13 Marijuana

If you haven’t seen the images or want to refresh your memory (either of Mr. Saunders’ work or your own “under the influence” impressions), take a look at all of them here: Artist Takes Every Drug Known to Man, Draws Self Portraits After Each Use.

Under the Influence exhibit doesn’t give us any answers to the  life’s persistent question  To do or not to do drugs if one has creative aspirations. It only exhibits works of artists under the influence.

As for Mr. Sounders’ excellent adventures with substances: as much as the world might be amused by his experiments, he might not live long enough to have much time basking in a glory of humankind’s appreciation of his sacrifice. 

Now let’s all go and do something creative. 




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