EK Roundtable Series: Art and Drugs

Artists often choose to remain silent when it comes to social discussion, whether because they believe the art will speak for itself or for other reasons, they take a pass when called upon to raise their voices and address the important questions.  Because of this the amount of dialogue within the arts community suffers and a group of strong, passionate, creative individuals is broken into so many little pieces to be ineffective rather than a strong, informed community.

We at Empty Kingdom want to build a place not simply for beautiful art, but beautiful people as well.  As we are sure you all are.  We want to see a strong arts community capable not only of speaking it’s mind in a single, unified voice, but one large and powerful enough to get what they are asking for.  In this Roundtable we are seeking to provide one of the many building blocks to build such a community.

But how do we stitch together so many disparate elements?  One step at a time.  We share our love of art with you, so we know that we have common ground.  Here we present to you dialogue.  The Roundtable series addresses important and often ignored issues that are very real to artists and the arts community.  Addiction, sexuality, lust, love, beauty, give us your ears and the time and we’ll try and address them all.  You’ve done us the great honor of coming to our site, now take whatever you read in the following roundtable, however much you manage to read, and go talk about it.  This is how we create dialogue, this is how we create community.  Good communities take hard work and we’re all in this together.


Can you please give your definition of drugs?  Robotussin can be used to relieve congestion, but when taken in high doses, can be used as a dissociative to trip.  When does a substance become a drug?  And when does drug use cross the boundary from recreational, to habitual, to abusive?  Can that be measured either finitely or abstractly?  Is that person dependent?

Dali, Van Gogh, Giger, there are many famous artists who used drugs, there are also plenty who did not, such as Michelangelo, Matisse, or Ansel Adams.  Do you think there is something to be gained in terms of artistic capabilities from the use of drugs?  It is within the definition of creative types to have thoughts that are nontypical, nonlinear and fantastical.  Drugs can open a door to worlds that are even more fantastical, to perceptions even less in line with reality.  Do you think that as an artist, such non-rational thought processes are necessary for the sake and advancement of art, whether drug induced or otherwise?  Do you think that there is a particular difference between the art of drug users and abstainers?


Joram Roukes

The common term for pharmaceutics I think, is drugs. I think the initial purpose of drugs is to cure illnesses. However, if used in excess these drugs can work as psychedelics or hallucinogenic substances, in which case I would say the substance becomes a drug in the sense that it alters the mind. I think the grades of consumption of this effect can be strictly defined; recreational is on occasion, Habitual would be if one ‘only takes drugs during weekends’, and abusive is closely linked to addiction where one is dependant on the substance. I think the boundaries between these different grades of drug consumption are very thin.

In regards to the examples given I would say that it’s all about what function art should serve. The 20th century artists all worked with their own perception of a subjective reality, whereas Michelangelo was an artist of science and rationality. His works evolved around mathematics and anatomy. I would say there is less room for drug use in his process of working then there was for Van Gogh who was seeking to give form to his subjective reality.

As an artist I think you mirror the world around you and reflect this upon the world within you. I think this can be done equally well by means of observing the world around you soberly, and through exploring the world within you, with or without drugs. It’s neither necessary nor obsolete.

Esthetically drugs can obviously have an influence on the way a work of art can turn out. In that regard there might be a difference as drug induced hallucinations can have an effect on a painting that otherwise might not have occurred. But making art is also a cognitive process that would be (partly) disabled when one is under influence of drugs.


Jason Levesque

Every drug compound is different, it’s very difficult to talk about drugs in terms of absolutes. Any broad statement is going to be met with dozens of examples to the contrary. I’ll do my best here.

A “drug”, I believe is any substance collected or created to be consumed for it’s biological effects on the human body. A definition that includes everything from prozac and aspirin to psychedelic mushrooms and black tar heroin. When some young dreadlock in a baja comes up to you and offers you “drugs” he’s speaking of “drugs” as specifically controlled substances.

In that sense our laws draw the lines between drugs and “drugs”. A drug prescribed legally by a doctor such as Adderall becomes a “drug” when you don’t have prescription. I know that might seem like a horribly corrupt situation, but if you don’t understand the dosage requirements, the side effects and the documented drug interactions, then you can’t safely self prescribe.

I’ve never experimented with drugs with the exception of alcohol. I was never really attracted to the idea of mind altering drugs, I’ve tried to explain “why not” most of my life, but never really landed on a good answer. Just not interested i suppose. I did stay awake for 80 hours once. I don’t remember much of the last day of that ordeal, but it’s about the worst punishment i’ve put my brain through. I did note that i could only have one stream of thought at a time and often my mind seemed to fall almost silent with no thoughts at all. Truly bizarre.

I spent most of my teen and very early twenties extremely depressed. There was a lot of hopelessness back then and art was something i did to exorcise demons. It didn’t work and ultimately left me frustrated. As an artist i grew very little back then. I know a lot of people can turn their depression into creative fuel, but I don’t work that way. I blamed my obsessive self defeating depression on my situations never thinking it could come down to just brain chemistry. When, at 23, i finally found my way to the psychiatrist couch i was hesitant to accept antidepressant medication. I didn’t want to suffocate my creativity with some mind numbing chemical. I agreed to give it a try.

Two weeks later my mind cleared. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly i could focus, i could be creative and actually enjoy creating. I found that with a slightly less noisy mind i could choose where i wanted my mind to go and work far more efficiently. In a very large sense my art career was made possible by chemistry, i’m ok with that.


Meredith Dittmar

The term drug seems to be individually defined. I regularly refer to  sugar and caffeine as drugs. That probably is part of my attempt to expand out what peoples narrow definitions of drugs are. I think when we hear the word drug we take that with a slight negative connotation, and by thinking  more broadly about what constitutes a drug we can examine our own biases, and force fed preconceptions about drugs. Anyway – it’s a weird thing when you think about it.

If I took a stab at a definition I’d start with a substance that  produces a state change within the individual. But when you go deeper into that, food can cause state change, environment can cause state change, sitting still or not sleeping like Jason mentioned can do it…  really we are just chemical energetic clusters engaging in reactions with everything.  It can get kind of messy really.  As far as abuse and boundaries go.. I think abuse of drugs isn’t really about drugs. It’s a symptom of a larger issue within the individual. Its an avoidance or unwillingness to deal with what anxiety or suffering you feel in the present moment.

People use all kinds of addictions to avoid life. Eating, hoarding, or washing their hands five billion times a day… We have been  trained to blame drugs  when that’s  entirely the wrong thing to be looking at. Once we separate all these things out, we can start looking at substances with a clear lens, and maybe then we can have a scientific unemotional (and honest) conversation about the individual and societal benefits/or lack thereof  of specific drugs.

Good information (instead of scare tactics) has a better chance of helping people make good choices about what they put in their body.  In my opinion lazy/paid doctors and a pharmaceutical industry flooded with cash poses a just as serious health concern (or greater) than the “drug dealer” on the corner.I feel like I push my personal bounds of comfort very consistently throughout the day. Its extremely unnerving to the egoic self when you dig under it and observe it’s dance.  I had many expanded experiences as a child, but was never able to contextualize it.  I gently rediscovered that space while riding in the backcountry in my 20s, then was somewhat violently forced to inquire more deeply through a few key entheogenic experiences with my husband, and have continued deliberately down the path of self-exploration via meditation and self-inquiry. (Hangin’ with various non-dual teachers, reading, sitting, listening to podcasts etc.) I’ve always had a sense that things aren’t always what they seem, and how exciting is it that there is so much “unknown” located directly inside of ourselves… ALL  of it actually! You get to be the astronaut on the exploratory mission to your true self.  It kind of turns out that the astronaut gets fired in the end, but that’s another conversation.

And yes, this exploration is most definitely what informs my work and really my entire life.  Anyway to bring it back to “drugs”…  Entheogens  have played a key role in the development and unfolding of human consciousness going back to the beginning of recorded history, and really the human race is naturally prone to exploring altered states of all kinds.  Its exciting and appropriate that we are finally getting back to exploring their potential benefits in a scientific setting. Perhaps one day we can use these substances more effectively to help people see beyond the deeply held belief that we ARE our thoughts and feelings. Imagine maybe a few sessions with a guiding therapist and an entheogen  such as 5MEoDMT, followed by a consistent practice of self-inquiry or mindfulness training, instead of a lifetime on prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. Ultimately, there are lots of ways to dig in to the nature of reality, and drugs aren’t for everyone.  However, there’s a lot of research coming out, that shows that certain drugs taken in supportive conditions and with the right intent,  can be an effective tool for deeper exploration and plant seeds that unfold over a lifetime.


More Joram Roukes!


More Jason Levesque!


More Meredith Dittmar!