For centuries, the relationship between drugs and creativity has always been a recurring (tragic) love affair, a juicy taboo that questions inspiration and credibility behind artwork, literature, music and even politics. For instance, the 19th century witnessed the heydays of opium among history’s finest authors, and the 1960s… well, things got pretty heated up in that decade, with the rise of psychedelic drugs and marijuana use among celebrities, writers and well… people in general, really.
The truth remains that some of the most respected legends and creators of all time were known or suspected to have dropped a substance or two (if not addicted) for a little “inspiration enhancement”. Here are five examples that got us totally intrigued.
And remember – don’t try this at home.
1. Charles Dickens
So apparently the celebrated novelist of Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver didn’t ask for more porridge, he asked for more opium. According to a drug expert from Kratom Crazy, usage of the drug was famous among Victorian-era novelists and poets, some of which include Mary Shelley, John Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was said that opium dens were easily found in the areas Charles frequented which made it easy for him to take a few hits and “nod off”. Did the poppy substance directly inspire his literary works? No one knows for sure, but it’s worth a thought or two.
2. The Beatles
It’s no secret that The Beatles experimented with many kinds of drugs in their primetime; some of their best songs had clever, if not obvious, implications of the substances they’ve used, which included Benzedrine, Amphetamines, Cannabis and LSD. According to The Beatles Bible, LSD had a “profound effect” on the band’s songwriting and recording, namely ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Revolver’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
But the song most associated with LSD in their discography is John Lennon’s ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. Despite earlier claims by the group that it was inspired by a drawing by John’s son Julian, Paul McCartney later confessed in a 2004 interview that it was, indeed, about the greater heights (ahem) of an LSD trip. Nonetheless, the influence of drugs on The Beatles is often an overestimation; these guys were (and are) talented geniuses, you know.
3. Vincent Van Gogh
The Dutch painter produced some of the most valuable works of art but unfortunately didn’t live to see his own success; in fact Vincent perfectly manifested the phrase “struggling artist”, spending most of his adult life as a depressed and mentally ill man. According to the Van Gogh Gallery, an addiction to absinthe and a prescribed drug Digitalis (used to ease his epilepsy) may have been one of the reasons why the color yellow is such a prominent presence in his paintings – take the paintings The Yellow House and Starry Night, for instance. Chemicals in absinthe and Digitalis can cause one to see in yellow or see yellow spots.
4. Jack Nicholson
Here’s an interesting “how did you two meet?” tale: Jack didn’t experiment with LSD by choice or peer pressure, but he was the experiment itself. In the 1950s, he participated in a series of LSD tests conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Janiger, which involved taking a dose of LSD (together with 70 other artists) and drawing native American dolls (you read that right). It leads us to wonder whether this was linked to his screenplay of the 1967 cult film, The Trip, which starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Also worthy of a note, Jack’s role in the Academy Award-winning One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is based on Ken Kesey – an author who was also known to take LSD in real life.
5. Steve Jobs & Bill Gates
Yes, the man whose apple is more famous than that of Adam in the Garden of Eden confessed to using LSD (wow, acid seems to reign high on this list, eh?). In an interview with John Markoff for the 2005 book What the Doormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, Steve described using LSD in the 70s as “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” Did the experience help to inspire some of Apple’s designs? We’re not sure, but considering that Microsoft giant Bill Gates has also admitted to somewhat of an ‘errant youth’ (and in Playboy no less) perhaps these two whiz-kids had something in common.
So…. What do you think about the usage of drugs for creativity?
Here is perhaps a glimpse of what Van Gogh saw (or as we’d like to imagine) as he completed Starry Night, if the relation between his art and his prescription drug were true!