• Radio Monash Journalism

Art Is(n't) Pain: The Be Good Project and deconstructing the tortured artist ideal

Written by Riya Kiran.

Intent on addressing mental health in the arts industry, The Be Good Project has brought Melbourne artists together for a heart-warming collaborative project.

“You’re always going to suffer as a human being, but you don’t have to go out of your way to suffer for art."

Radio Monash spoke with founder of emerging label Robot Jaw Records, Josh Hicks, about the initiative.

The inspiration for this project came from Josh’s own experiences as a musician balancing mental health with creating art.

“I’ve begun to understand that if my art comes from an inherently unstable place, then I would need a healthy way to express that.”

The multimedia project takes the form of a compilation album and accompanying art and lyric book, consisting of 14 tracks and 13 visual art pieces as well as an artist Q&A series. Josh explained that it was released in a demo track style to “take away from the commodification".

“Something just for art’s sake.”

The Be Good Project hopes to create a conversation within our society about mental health in conjunction with the arts, to facilitate an environment where people can feel supported through a cathartic experience.

Musicians and artists are not always pursuing the most sustainable lifestyles, which can make it difficult to maintain a positive state of mind. Many work part-time jobs with terrible hours, often surrounded by alcohol, and are constantly weighing up the prospect of using their talent as a legitimate form of income.

All the artists featured in the project were prompted by the central concept of ‘mental health’, but had the freedom to approach it from any perspective. The results ranged from themes of self care to mental fortitude, exploring a plethora of different viewpoints.

“The Be Good Project expresses that people in the arts community have their own unique set of challenges,” said Josh. "There’s so much that adds to our discomfort.”

The project also stirs up a conversation regarding the harmful romanticisation of mental illnesses. The notion of the 'tortured artist' has become an ideal that artists tend to strive for and battle with throughout their careers.

Josh himself described how he becomes more invested in a song when it comes from torture or pain. As listeners, we tend to enjoy listening to music more when there is a degree of hurt. “I listen to it and go, yes, that interests me.”

From a consumerism point of view, it is often seen as a necessity, but that can often lead to an extension of the artist’s suffering. Artists often begin to believe that in order to attract, sell and even have their message heard, they must only create art about suffering. Without it, their art becomes invalid.

“Ultimately it becomes a selling point,” said Josh. “If there’s no pain, then it’s shallow. Unless it is crippling, it doesn't have the same weight.”

Josh stated how artists “don't seek out help, instead they purely rely on their art”, and continue to suffer for a lot longer than is necessary for the pure sake of selling to audiences.

'Healthy', released under the performing name 'Therapy Dog’ was Josh’s personal contribution to the project. With the focus of challenging himself musically, whilst also expressing what he was going though at the time, Josh used this as an opportunity to turn his own bad experiences into good ones.

The track is composed of a repeating synth pattern overlaid with a handful of lyrics, interpreting Josh’s journey with mental health.

Road signs // You missed it // Rewind

“The song addresses the idea that even small issues can slowly build up and integrate themselves deeply within your personality and mind.”

Now the tape is scratched // If you want to be healthy

“Proceedingly then, the damage that comes from not dealing with those matters in a compassionate manner,” said Josh.

Throughout his time making music, Josh has had to grapple with being extremely self critical and harsh. While he would “often shut off from music, thinking I wasn’t talented enough", producing under ‘Therapy Dog’ became Josh’s method of dealing with these hardships.

“It became very difficult for me to engage with it.”

“But even the fact that it’s called therapy dog has allowed me to more absorbed it.”

“It’s aspirational the idea of a therapy dog, a dog that is trained to assist people who are suffering. That's what I want from life, I just want to be able to help.”

Stemming from more than just his love for dogs, which he referred to “as close to as you can get to an angel”, Josh found himself in a better place under the name. “This project, too, I believe helped me in a sense. Like art therapy.”

The project in its entirety takes a strong stand on creating safe environments and addressing the burning relevance of mental health in the industry. Artists tend to endure such experiences alone. Everyone is owed the opportunity to live a sustainable life, and The Be Good Project wants to aid in people’s isolated experience, ensuring that artists feel supported and know they don't have to go through it alone.

“You’re always going to suffer as a human being, but you don’t have to go out of your way to suffer for art,” said Josh.

Josh plans to create more editions of The Be Good Project in the future and continue to spread the strong message.

For now, you can get your hands on the first installation of The Be Good Project on Bandcamp. For $35, you will receive a digital and physical copy of the album and the lyric and visual art book, with all proceeds donated to Beyond Blue.