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Obsessed artist reveals realistic side to simple movie trope

Graphic by Vittoria di Meo. Images used with permission from Rocor/Flickr, Pinguino K/Flickr, Commons, Ario/Flickr, Stephen Coles/Flickr, Confetta/Flickr and Priyanshi.rastogi21/Wikimedia Commons
The ‘obsessed artist’ has become a widely used persona. It has been represented in a variety of movies and shows as well as seen through real-life creatives.

Achieving success is any person’s dream, yet few reach these aspirations. Success could be achieving their set goals or winning an award or getting praise for their work. Too often, artistic prodigies push themselves past their limits, sacrificing their wellbeing. Although many fictional characters assume the role of the obsessed artist on screen, this characteristic is a prevalent symptom in real artists and can be condensed into three words: obsessed artist trope.

One such example of this trope is the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” in which protagonist Elizabeth Harmon, a phenomenal chess player, battles a drug addiction throughout the series. At a young age, Harmon was given tranquilizers  in an orphanage where she spent much of her childhood, and since then, she relied heavily on drugs to win every chess match.

Similarly, the movie “Whiplash” is centered around an abusive mentor who fuels protagonist Andrew Niemann’s obsession with perfection. Niemann dreams of becoming a famous jazz drummer, and the movie begins with his first year at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music. This opportunity marks the origin of his journey to stardom.

The top jazz ensemble’s instructor, Terence Fletcher, asks Niemann to be their drummer after hearing him play. Fletcher’s teaching methods utilize the tactic of intimidation and often manifest themselves in the emotional and physical abuse of players, even going as far as to throw objects at students when they displease him. This pressure pushes Niemann to the limit.

Furthermore, another case appears in the movie “Black Swan,” which follows the story of Nina Sayers, an ambitious, hard-working ballerina at New York City Ballet. When the director decides to recast the previous prima ballerina for their new production of “Swan Lake,” Sayers is his first choice. However, another dancer in the Company, Lily, also impresses him during a competition between the dancers. 

Nina experiences hallucinations where she fights with an alternate version of herself and slowly enters a state of mental illness. She proceeds to harm herself, jeopardizing both her physical and emotional health in the chase for this role. 

Each of these characters is remarkably skillful in obtaining their goals. Their desperate pursuit for perfection drives them to put their mental health – and in some cases physical health – at stake. While one often has to make sacrifices for success, these sacrifices typically present themselves as lazy tendencies, such as sleeping in or procrastinating.

In the real world, artists constantly reiterate that some obsessive trait with their work is necessary for success, whether this be in the financial industry or the artistic dance industry. 

Actress Drew Barrymore once said, “To be really great and interesting, you have to be a little crazy. I just don’t think one comes without the other.”

Thus, addiction is a pattern seen in many innovators who claim that their preferred drug is the origin of their creativity, for example, Stephen King, Billie Holiday, Jackson Pollack and Edgar Allen Poe.

The lives of many “obsessed artists” are fraught with struggle, and, therefore, they sacrifice more and more to reach their goals. The obsessed artist trope goes beyond entertaining an audience or crafting an award-winning story; it jeopardizes a character’s stability. 

There is no doubt that through sacrificing everything, Harmon, Niemann, and Sayer’s dreams did come true. To achieve true success, whether that be achieving high praise or being the best at something, it’s necessary to make sacrifices, sometimes unhealthy ones, to push yourself to your goals.

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About the Contributor
Vittoria Di Meo
Vittoria Di Meo, Sports Editor: Online
Vittoria Di Meo (’24) is the Sports Editor: Online for The Standard and this is her fourth year in the publication. Di Meo started writing for the Middle School newspaper, The Scroll in Grade 8 and soon found an instant attraction to journalism. Di Meo loves writing and is excited by the opportunity to shine light on current events. Outside of The Standard Di Meo has tried out all kinds of sports but has discovered she mostly enjoys running by herself to listen to music and challenge limits.

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