On Art & Addiction: Thoughts Surrounding the Tragic Death of Michael K. Williams

The death of yet another prolific artist lost to drugs raises questions of what it means to be an artist in a world where everyone is always watching.

There’s a certain immortalization that comes with suicide other forms of death cannot imitate. 

Perhaps it is a Western phenomenon, and even more specifically an American one. Our heroes always seem to end their own lives. We say our heroes are “gone too soon” because we never seem to have appreciated the life of our heroes when they still had one. Artists are the primary target of this obsession with suicide because art is the most intimate profession there is. Few others require such immense vulnerability and even fewer elicit such strong emotions from its consumers.

To be an artist requires the constant sacrifice of oneself. 

Art requires blood from its creator. 

Audiences see themselves in crimson reflection thinking yes, my blood is the same. A relationship is formed despite the two parties never having come in contact. So when these famed artists die, we feel as if we knew them, and their death becomes an immortal tribute to the beauty of their work.

“Nothing ends poetically,” wrote author Kait Rokowsi. “It ends and we turn it into poetry. All that blood was never once beautiful. It was just red” 

People unintentionally put artists who take their own life on a pedestal as humans that were too good or smart or talented for this world. When in actuality, they were just humans in immense pain.

All of these thoughts have been swimming through my muddled mind since I learned about the death of famed actor Michael K. Williams from what is believed to be a heroin overdose. He immediately became added to the list of artists I have known and loved and lost to drugs. As an artist myself, I am constantly struggling with balancing the pressure of creating in a world that has become increasingly more judgemental as avenues of self-expression grow more crowded.

But I don’t want to be an artist in a world that will put more importance on my life once it is over. I don’t want my most popular work to be celebrated posthumously.  The pressure of being an artist, a creator, is crushing. It forces one to constantly observe themselves and those around them. To feel often so removed from real life in an attempt to understand it and make it something others can consume.

There are no final words of mine to quote. I am not “gone too soon”. I am not gone. I am here. I am loved by the people in my life rather than mourned in death. I am smelling my flowers while I can rather than admiring the ones on my grave. 

In this, poetry can be found. 

In life, poetry is everywhere, even if I can’t always find it. 

But that doesn’t stop me from looking.