Three Calgary artists respond to comparative study that debunks idea of artists’ inner turmoil

A 2013 study published in the academic journal, Economic Letters, has turned the clichéd idea of the tormented artist on its head.

The struggle of the artist — rife with depression and demons — isn’t new. The suicide of Vincent van Gogh, the theories of depression and mental illness surrounding Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mozart and the darker works of Goya all point to inner torment.

Using prior research, employment rates, earnings and job satisfaction, the study spanning 49 European countries targeted professional artists and what researchers deemed “other workers.”

Using a rating scale, with 1 being “totally unhappy” and 10 being “totally happy,” the study found artists were happier in their work, scoring an average of 7.7 while “other workers” came in at 7.3.

The study points to artists’ ability to weave personal and professional lives together with more ease than those in business or trade roles. Likewise, artists generally enjoy a happier work-life balance, setting their hours and avoiding the confines of a set schedule.

What the artists have to say

The Calgary Journal asked three members of the city’s arts community to give us their views on creating art, staying positive and maintaining happiness.

Musician Danny Vacon

It’s hard to talk about Calgary’s music community without mentioning Danny Vacon. As the frontman for some of the city’s most well known acts, including The Dudes and HighKicks, his influence and unmistakable voice have become synonymous with the strength of Calgary’s music scene. He’s toured extensively throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe, but it’s Calgary he calls home.Photo by Ryan Rumbolt

Vacon’s column:

First, the bad news.
You’re going to die. Probably not today (fingers crossed), probably not tomorrow (still crossing) but it’s coming.

The good news is you’re not dead yet and what you choose to do with the time you have is up to you.

Disclaimer: Before you take my advice, remember this — I’m just one guy and I probably don’t know anything about anything. BUT, I also might be the happiest man you know, so…

Kurt Vonnegut said, “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

Make something. ANYTHING. Take a bunch of nothing and turn it into a something. Watch what happens. You remember when the Grinch’s heart grew two sizes? That. Who gives a rat’s ass if no one thinks it’s amazing. It didn’t exist before. THAT’S AMAZING. Who are those guys everyone talks about for an hour on Sundays, or in Temple or in a Mosque? Creators. People are crazy about creators!Performing here at X92.9 FM’s One Weekend Only event, Danny Vacon, with his powerful voice and trademark beard has shard the stage with some of mainstream music’s most well known acts.

Photo by Ryan Rumbolt

An example.
Blank (your name) saw what blank made, and behold, it totally didn’t exist before. Blank didn’t care if it was considered amazing by others because it made blank feel like a champ!
When you feel like a champ, you radiate… uh… something (I’m no scientist) that EVERYONE picks up on. They treat you differently. They treat you better. Then they leave you and treat whoever they see next better too.

And on and on. So, again, make something. Anything. Your heart will thank you.

Film Director Brock Davis Mitchell

Brock Davis Mitchell, an award-winning cinematographer and director, focuses on building relationships and creating stories about those who inspire him. Having been nominated for several Alberta Media Production Industries Association awards, Mitchell first made a name for himself through his Shot at the Dark video series, showcasing acoustic performances from musicians across North America.Photo by Joey Camacho

Mitchell’s Column

The power and legacy of motion picture film has always been reliant on the human connection. What drew me to become a filmmaker was, when I left a film, I found myself missing these characters, longing to know more about them.

Still being fairly new to the industry, I have had the privilege to be part of numerous genres of filmmaking, from documentaries and music videos, to narrative films. It’s allowed me to not only shape my craft through the accessibility to explore a number of stories from different perspectives, but to collaborate with people and characters on the emotional level that attracted me in the first place.

Film has allowed me to step into the lives of the musicians, artists, and those who have influenced me, to be witness to a side of them that goes beyond conversation, or outer values. Each person or character entrusts me with the responsibility to nurture moments in their life and tell their story. We share laughter, heartbreak, struggles and tears, capturing a genuine truth and forming a unique bond. Together, we face moments of astonishment, and absolute beauty in the midst of fear —
fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of yourself.A multiple award winning filmmaker, Mitchell says that he would rather stay in Calgary to see the city’s scene grow than move to a long established market.

Photo by Allison Seto

Calgary fosters a community that allows for artists to not only thrive, but to make the cultural significance of this city our own. The community relishes in its local talent and gives its complete unwavering support, with no competitive edge. Like a family, we are growing in tandem together.

If it weren’t for this city, and the audience that I was gifted with, my film career would have never progressed. For this I owe everything to Calgary; Calgary doesn’t owe me anything.

Painter Mandy Stobo

Painter Mandy Stobo is all about joy. Her work, both original and abstract, has caught the eyes of comedian Louis C.K., Canadian media icon, George Stroumboulopoulos and has even graced the cover of Jann Arden’s newest album. Though Stobo’s work spans a variety of styles, each bringing its own unique appeal, she’s become quite well known for her “Bad Portrait Project“— a colour-laden, unorthodox take on human portraiture.Photo by Jennifer Burch

Stobo’s Column

It is pretty incredible to think that as an artist, I get to pursue my dream and follow my passion. No matter how much struggle and hard work it takes, the opportunity of having autonomy, of exploring expression and of creating new things, brings about a beautiful happiness.

The Bad Portrait Project started for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was because I was frustrated with the idea that angst and depression were being celebrated in the art world more than joy and happiness. I wanted to see if I could create a pop art movement that celebrated people, flaws and joy. And I am so lucky that it has found success, but I think that that is a testament to the idea that people too want to gravitate to happiness more than its opposite.

Calgary is one of the coolest places on earth. We have this incredibly unique opportunity where we still have space to develop our identity and what we want to present to the world. It’s beautiful to watch different areas and people in Calgary grab a hold of each other, support each other and really try to make a great mark on the world with our big hearts and bigger ideas.Mandy Stobo’s Bad Self Portrait. Stobo sees her Bad Portrait Project as a way to have fun with and embrace the joy in imperfection.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Stobo

Being creative is so empowering, and fulfilling. I am so lucky that I can try any idea that pops into my head. Obviously, not all of them will become the collected masterpieces you hope for, but every time you take a chance on a painting or in life it develops into something else.

And that’s where all the big smiles and huge dreams happen — in that playtime. I try to remind myself of that rule outside of the studio as well. I wish we could all just play how we like and see what we can build.