Introduction and Background
Amid World War III and the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, a seemingly far more gripping conflict has captured the attention of the international public. The Amber Heard defecation trial, excuse me, defamation trial, has become the standard water-cooler gossip and dinner table conversation starter with a surprisingly bipartisan reaction.
The social implications of this case that shed light on male victims of domestic abuse not only serve to educate on the nuance of intimate partner violence but are also a step in the right direction towards true gender equality for all genders. However, what struck me as particularly interesting when observing this case and listening to the testimonies, was the distinct way that Johnny Depp responded to and recounted his abuse.
His speech and behavior contained a certain quality that was immediately recognizable as that of an artist. Today, we will be discussing the psychology and philosophy behind this trait, and how those who fancy themselves artists can learn from this trial.
For Johnny Depp, language is not simply pragmatic, but a carefully crafted art form that can take a harrowing situation and make it sound somehow beautiful.
“You know what I want, who I am and where I want to go with us… You know very well what type of fucking man I am. And, yet… you lay a gauntlet before me that you know is the very species of danger that will always attract me into a very tempting test… What’s behind that door??? Almost impossible to not take you on … You want me to roll the dice??? This sounds more like an aggravated ultimatum than the soft words that could help to make us both feel better!!! Don’t test me, please…”.
This text message, sent by Johnny to Amber during a fight while they were still married, is just one instance of many that showcases Johnny’s inclination towards the creative. His speech, even though the casual medium of text messaging and during a very grave time in his life, is still drowning in poetic language, metaphor, and emotionally striking wording.
When Amber throws a bottle at him resulting in him losing the tip of his finger, rather than going to the emergency room right away, Johnny begins to write across his walls and mirrors. When asked what he was writing, he answered, "little reminders from our past that essentially represented lies that she had told me and lies that I had caught her in" as well as the words “I love you”. When the blood from his finger ran out, Johnny dipped his hand into the paint and continued covering the walls with messages and paintings.
I find this reaction as beautiful as I find the entire situation disturbing. It takes a very special kind of person to be able to create art just moments after being physically attacked and at the expense of foregoing medical treatment - turning pain into something beautiful in the most literal way possible.
The Big 5
Let us now try to figure out what exactly this kind of person looks like, aside from defining an artist by something a little more specific than just someone who paints happy little trees, and let's talk about the actual psychological profile common to artists. There are many models of personality, but the most commonly used (and my personal favorite) is referred to as The Big 5 model of personality. (You can take the test here)
This model assesses where people lie amongst 5 dimensions which can be remembered by the acronym OCEAN: Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. A person’s score across these 5 dimensions can be a useful tool in understanding their behavior and thinking patterns and can be used to assess a person’s potential strengths and weaknesses.
One trait associated with creativity, in particular, is openness, which attempts to quantify how open-minded someone is and how open they are to trying new experiences. People who score high in openness tend to be creative, imaginative, and liberal-minded, while those scoring low in openness tend to be more conservative, grounded in reality, and set in their ways. As you can imagine, artists tend to score quite high in this trait. People high in openness tend to also engage in far more sensation-seeking behaviors, which can lead to them having very intense relationships such as in the case of Johnny and Amber.
Nietzsche on Suffering
Another trait associated with artists is neuroticism, which represents how inclined someone is towards experiencing negative emotions. Many artistically inclined people tend to score high in this trait, as there is a tendency for people to turn negative emotions into art. Alongside promoting creativity, however, high openness combined with high neuroticism can be a risk factor for drug and alcohol abuse which is clearly the case with Johnny Depp. His toxic relationship with Amber could be viewed as a sort of addiction in and of itself, with the low lows making the highs seem all that much more euphoric.
“Man, the bravest of animals, and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far.”
This quote by Nietzsche, to me, perfectly summarizes one of the most fundamental reasons why people create art. After all, what is art, if not a purpose for suffering? It seems as though artists often make a Faustian bargain by exchanging their happiness for a bit of creativity. It is clear that in his own way, Johnny Depp’s creative testimony and blood murals were a way to give his suffering a purpose, and I think that this is something we can all relate to here at The Poetry Cove.
So what can we learn from all of this? Well, as poets, I assume that a lot of you here possess a lot of creative traits, maybe even some in common with Johnny Depp. And while this can lead to beautiful art and life experiences, I also think that these traits can put people at risk of finding themselves in dangerous situations such as unhealthy relationships, issues with drug abuse, and making poor financial decisions.
I would be hesitant to say that any personality trait on its own is good or bad. Rather, each one has a positive and a negative side to it. By understanding our own psychology though, we can be more aware of these things and learn to use the positive aspects to our benefit, and mitigate the negative ones as best as possible in order to navigate life in the most fulfilling way possible - whatever that means to you.
I’m interested to know what you guys think in the comments section, and I’m also curious to know where you all fall on The Big 5!