Artists, Drugs and Alcohol – a personal account by artist, Gill Bustamante

It is a commonly held belief that the artistic temperament and creativeness is enhanced by alcohol and drug use. I am a professional artist and art tutor and here is my personal account on drugs, alcohol, artistic temperament and being creative.

My experience began in 1978 when I was in sixth form college taking A levels and someone handed me a joint. They implied that if I was going to be a ‘real artist’ it would involve taking drugs.

I was bored, I was curious, I wanted to do something my parents would hate and I saw no reason not to do it so I accepted.

‘Real artists’ were allegedly passionate, drugged up, drunk, eccentric and whacky. I fell for these lies quite easily as when I looked at myself, I saw a pudgy rather dull girl who was ‘good at art’ but not very interesting (my idea of ‘interesting’ being the lies sold to me by my friends and the TV).

I bought a motorbike, played loud music and began to drink and take ‘soft’ drugs with the notion that these things made me more of an artist and more interesting. I finished A levels and went to college to get a degree in art. It was now the 1980’s and the same lies were magnified even more. I especially remember the one about ‘Marihuana is better for you than alcohol’ It took me a long time to realise that that Marihuana and Opiates do a lot more lasting damage to your memory and energy levels than alcohol does.

I continued attempting to be interesting and I did actually manage to become an artist. But this happened in spite of drink and drugs, not because of it.

It was not until I was 24 that I began to suspect drugs and alcohol were actually making my life and my ability to make art harder. I found it was not true that drugs broaden the mind. All they did was sent me elsewhere and reduced my energy levels and ability to observe and complete the things I started. I set myself goals and then just did not finish them. They also resulted in feeling listless and bored and often quite depressed. And worst of all, from an artist’s point of view, I found my mental pictures that I used to imagine a painting had become much duller. I knew this because as child I could lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and easily imagine I was in a jungle with tigers and brightly coloured birds all around me or on a ship in the ocean or up a mountain in Nepal. I had a vivid imagination. At 24, however, that had dulled right down until all I could get was faded 1970’s film quality instead of the vivid HD sharp pictures I had enjoyed as a child. Drugs do this and they do it slowly and insidiously so that you don’t even realise it is happening.

Fortunately, on leaving art college, I found out about L. Ron Hubbard’s drug rehabilitation programme. I did the programme in Brighton in 1985. It helps you to get drugs out of your system physically as well as providing counselling and courses that help you mentally to figure out what you really want from life that drugs became the ‘solution’ to. And finally, how to go ahead and achieve those goals. I did all that quite happily (and no I did not believe the things I had heard about Hubbard and Scientology. I instead took a look for myself and made up my mind by my own observation rather than someone else’s).

As well as getting my lovely colourful imagination back, I also began to see the extent at which I had been bombarded with false information and other people’s erroneous ideas about what the ‘artistic temperament’ should be. “Artists should take drugs and be weird and strange’ was just the tip of the iceberg. I realised very clearly at that time how I had been brainwashed from birth into the idea that ‘enjoying’ yourself almost always involved participation in drugs and alcohol. Party’s, concerts, festivals, weddings, funerals, gallery openings, football match’s, dating and practically every other social event you can go to involves the invitation to indulge in drink or drugs. If you were an alien observing mankind and reporting back, you would be astounded at how readily humans will poison their body and confuse their mind and perceptions with drugs and alcohol.

I find it depressing to see the cycle repeating over and over as new generations are born and brainwashed into the idea that their ‘happiest memories’ usually contain drugs and alcohol. Even doctors and drug companies are doing a wonderful job in getting people addicted ‘legally’ to their drugs in colossal numbers (and they are much more damaging than a traditional drug pusher as people tend to believe ‘authorities’ and not question them).

My conclusion having been there and back is that drink and drugs did not make me a better artist or more interesting. Neither do I have to be drunk or stoned to have a good time. They instead reduce your mental ability, physical health and ability to get things done.

I applaud wholeheartedly the efforts of anyone trying to educate anyone, particularly youngsters and those in the arts, into seeing through the lies that the TV and society as a whole is continuously pushing at them.

Gill Bustamante 2021