Should We Avoid Depressing Art?

Being depressed isn't fun, right? It makes you feel useless, puts you in a poor temper and generally skews your view on things to the nihilistic side for the rest of the day. I say this to disclaim that I'm not saying that you should go out and buy art to purposefully depress yourself. I'm just asking, if something we know is depressing is before us, does that necessarily mean we should avoid it at any cost, especially if it's a representation of real life events?

The biggest question here is: What's the point of depressing art? Artists certainly use it to vent, that's true, but what does it mean for us, the readers?

One point of depressing art could be empathy. Take, for example, the book Maus, which tells the true story of a holocaust survivor and his struggles with the author, his son.

People can identify with this story for many reasons: struggling with a relative with alzheimer's, a distant parent, even having a friend or relative who's a Holocaust survivor or the survivor of some other tragic event that's left them scarred. These are all themes that people with these issues can empathize with and feel a sense of connection, like they aren't the only ones in the world struggling with it.

What about the rest of us, though? Those of us that don't have these problems? How are we supposed to relate/respond to themes of genocide, depression, strained families? More importantly, why are we drawn to them? Books like Maus and My Friend Dahmer didn't become commercial successes through such a small market. How do such depressing themes grab such a large audience?

Well, in the case of comics (a very popular outlet for depressing stories) it's because it comes to us through a familiar medium. It invites us by taking on a form we would normally consider friendly and then captivates us with a unique art style. The comics usually grip us by being simply or crudely drawn, with disturbing, striking images that catch our eyes.

Secondly, and this is just coming from me personally, it gives us a lot to think about when we put down the book or turn off the movie. Tragic stories stay with us for a long time and have us thinking about them for awhile. It's almost romanticized in our heads in a way. We live in that surreal depressing world where we can feel very present emotions rather than face our own world with it's mundane activities.

One reason that I feel I have to watch/read it is because of the "life is not all sunshine and rainbows" philosophy that I've had drilled into my head since age 12. I feel like I have to search out these stories to prove it to myself or something.

With all of this said, the question still remains: should we avoid depressing art?


If something effects you in a negative way, why bother? It's not helping you be a better person and it's not entertaining you, so what's the point? There really is no point to depressing art. Unless it's of some historical significance like Schndler's List, why read/watch something depressing for "entertainment" with no lessons or positivity even if it is real life? You're not always going to be able to avoid the sad parts of life, but that doesn't mean you should go out of the way to experience somebody else's sorrow. Go find something else to do. Don't put yourself in the dumps for no good reason.

Why do you think we do this? Do you have another theory?


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