art and drug

Wondering why there’s always been a link between art and drug use? This article hopes to answer your questions…

The common trope of tragic artists using drugs to escape their reality is one that pervades throughout history. Although class A drug conspiracy charges are no joke, there’s clearly a link between drug use and abuse, and the art world.

Although we can’t confirm that any well-known artists sold drugs, we can confirm that many have used drugs, whether prescribed or not. This has changed the way they view the world to open new avenues for their work.

The question is, how is this the case? In this article, we’ll be exploring the link between drugs and art both in recent years as well as in the past. We’ll do this by exploring some famous artists and their drug habits, and some recent artists too.


Many Famous Artists Are Known to Have Taken Drugs

First and foremost, there are many famous artists who have been known to take drugs, thus influencing their work. Discussing two very famous artists who took drugs, let’s see what impact drugs had…


Vincent Van Gogh: Absinthe and Digitalis

The first is none other than Vincent van Gogh, the world’s most tragic artist who was no stranger to drugs. Throughout his life, he struggled with various mental and physical illnesses, which was often exhibited in his artwork through sombre paintings and yellow hues.

Popular in the 19th century, absinthe did its rounds, and was something that Van Gogh was known to drink in large quantities. In letters to his brother, he actually said that absinthe was a detriment to his skill, but the same can’t be said for digitalis.

After being prescribed this common treatment for epilepsy, we can perhaps assume that this impacted his work. After all, users of the drug reported a yellow tinge to their vision, so famous works involving this colour may have been impacted by his drug use.

Although Van Gogh’s drug use may very well have changed the way he saw the world, it may not have had such a positive impact as our later artists attest.


Andy Warhol: Obetrol

With a completely different style from Van Gogh, Andy Warhol’s influence on pop art took the world by storm during the 20th century. According to the Recovery Village article cited previously, Warhol was fascinated by the drug culture, which he used as a subject for his art.

In 1963, however, Warhol was prescribed Obetrol, a diet pill of the era which acted as a stimulant similar to speed. This daily intake may have influenced his more chaotic artwork during his later years.

Although it’s clear that some of his best and most well-known pieces were created prior to his use of Obetrol, a new side to his work appears afterwards.

art and drugs
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Some Artists Use Drugs to Steer Their Art

It’s clear that various famous artists have used drugs to influence their work. The question is, why?

Bryan Saunders became a social media sensation in recent years after publishing his collection of self-portraits, drawn whilst on various drugs. Each drawing looks as though it’s been created by a completely different artist, highlighting how each drug opens up a new world for the user. In this instance, drugs were used to create a unique, eye-opening collection that otherwise may not have been possible.

In 1889, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” He said that various kinds of intoxication can heighten the senses in different ways, providing the user with the power to manifest creativity.

Saunders’ example is a very literal depiction of how drugs can inform artists. For other artists, however, drugs may be used as a way to help them think outside of the box. It’s Nice That interviewed various artists about their experiences while using drugs. Although not all had the same experiences, some positive stories included the following:


Evelyn, Performance Artist from East London

Although she’d never used drugs whilst performing, various substances outside of performance have altered her own perception of her creativity. She said that everything you can do whilst on drugs is possible without too, so it makes you realise that you can do anything in your day-to-day life. Ultimately, it empowers the user with new pathways of thinking and creativity that they never knew they possessed before.


Rosie, Textile Designer from South London

Rosie said that she always liked to make things, but taking hallucinogenics like mushrooms opened her mind to be more freely creative. This helped her to explore avenues of creativity that she never knew were in her before, forming her career as it stands now.


Helping Artists Discover Themselves Early On

Much like Rosie, drugs clearly have some sort of bearing on how people perceive their abilities, and therefore show them new avenues for their career. Within the same “It’s Nice That” article, Claire, a photographer from Bristol, said that her use of drugs actually shaped her career path altogether.

She said that being a teenager, you’re very much influenced by your environment, including your parents and schooling. Where schools may not encourage creativity, drugs can expose you to a world that you had never considered before.

Taking drugs can create a sense of confidence in people, opening their minds to the possibilities out there. Like Evelyn, it demonstrated to Rosie what she was capable of when using drugs, showing her that anything is possible when she’s off them.

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The Link Between Art and Drugs

It’s clear to see that drugs and art are linked in more ways than one. We hope this article has shed some light on why the two are so intrinsically linked.

Of course, if you’re struggling with drug abuse – whether selling drugs or abusing drugs – it’s important that you seek the advice you need. Be sure to speak to a counsellor or get the help of a support group if you are in any sort of trouble related to drugs.

Otherwise, if you have your own experiences with drugs and art, why not leave a comment down below?

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