I still get nostalgic for that strange place of creative bliss that I’ve only found a few times in my own mind, yet, I’d never really thought about the flipside of this coin until I heard the unusual story of Henry Darger.
Henry spent the rest of his life avoiding people and cloistering himself away in his room. For many decades he was a lowly janitor who kept to himself and didn’t engage in conversations. It wasn’t until a few weeks before his death, his neighbors and landlords found that he’d spent years of his after-work hours typing an immense novel illustrated with full-color drawings, huge paintings, and even a detailed memoir of his life. In his novel and his drawings, he created a world where little girls could fight back against their attackers, where children’s innocence was valued; something he knew from personal experience was not appreciated in the world around him.
He always wished he could protect children from the evil world, as news of crimes against children would assault him from his daily newspapers. The story of his truly magnum opus is much too detailed and multi-faceted to do much justice right now, which is why I highly recommend this incredible documentary.
It really made me think about the whole idea of cutting yourself off from the world to do art. It seems like Darger didn’t completely choose his lifestyle: he was, in a way, creating to survive. Darger went through so much in his life. Though he no doubt enjoyed creating his world, many times in his documentary, he confessed to his journal in so many words that he was lonely. In our world he was a poor, hopeless janitor keeping people at arm’s length, but in his world, his characters were his friends and he was the hero: the lord of his own realm.
His landlady said that the world he created was his life, and as soon as he left his room when his health began to fade, his life was severed, and he had no reason to live anymore.
This topic is so fascinating. If I weren’t so exhausted, I know I would write more.
Darger has left an incredible legacy of unusual, whimsical art and the mystery of his strange, compelling life. Anyone who has felt the burning passion to create, and a fury of injustice at the world can understand the power and the pain he poured into his work. Yet, I still wonder: is being a tortured soul worth it for the art’s sake, if there is no one to share it with in the end?