Why Making Art is Better When You’re High

People have been getting high and making art for centuries.
Why Making Art is Better When You're High
Portrait of Oriah/ Courtesy of Anthony Zito

I discovered marijuana when I was a teenager. Shortly thereafter, I discovered my own ability to draw. Coincidence? It’s hard to say, but I did create an entire Led Zeppelin tarot deck drawn with marker on cardstock and then laminated it with scotch tape. It looked pretty awesome.

Since marijuana was discovered, people have been getting stoned and making art. I’d be willing to bet money that many a hieroglyphic was created while buzzed (after all, they are called “higher-o-glyphics”), as well as some of those primitive bowls, spoons, arrowheads, and other items which dance on the fuzzy line between tools and art. The mediums of art used while stoned span a vast array of styles and methods. Wiz Khalifa admitted in a recent interview to using cannabis for bonding with creative pals, and also in his own creative process. I can’t say for sure if we’d have some of the incredible ballads of Willie Nelson without help from our favorite herb.

In a recent Harvard study, marijuana was linked to improving brain function—and we obviously need our brains to create art. A report from McLean Hospital, where the study took place, stated, “After three months of medical marijuana treatment, patients actually performed better, in terms of their ability to perform certain cognitive tasks, specifically those mediated by the frontal cortex…” According to Arne Dietrich, the author of How Creativity Happens in The Brain, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is central to creativity. This area is associated with handling emotions, concentrating, and higher brain functions, such as thought and action.

When you think of a stoner artist, you may think of a teenager locked in her bedroom, drawing a set of Led Zeppelin tarot cards. However, there are many successful members of the artistic community that rely on cannabis to help them to brainstorm ideas, cut out mental clutter so they can focus, attack a big task or quit procrastinating, among other activities relating to creating their art.

Anna Kustera, an art dealer, gallerist and owner/operator of Kustera Projects in Red Hook, NY has worked in the New York art world for over 3 decades. She believes that marijuana helps the common “insecure artist” to loosen up and get more creative: “I think it breaks down into two basic personality types; the insecure, neurotic type who smokes to open up their mind (the conceptual artists), and then there are the confident, egotistical, delusional ones who prefer to consume massive quantities of alcohol. Usually, those are painters, such as the abstract expressionists like Pollack and de Kooning.”

That being said, painting is one of artist Anthony Zito’s main mediums, but he has always considered marijuana to be more his creative enhancement versus alcohol. I first discovered his work displayed outside his storefront gallery on the Lower East Side. Walking by, I often noticed his colorful portraits of local characters and even some celebrities painted on found objects, such as old cabinet doors or mirrors. He calls himself a “classicist/expressionist with a psychedelic bent.” Zito also works in metal sculpture, filmmaking and other mediums. A true artist, he doesn’t have only one medium, but enjoys exploring the opportunities working with multiple mediums can offer.

Why Making Art Is Better When You’re High
Portrait of William Burroughs/ Courtesy of Anthony Zito

Zito has smoked weed and used it while creating his art on and off since age 11, though more recently he has been opting for exploring other creative enhancements, such as ayahuasca. “When I smoked, I would have an easier time seeing the big picture and would better recognize certain things that needed adjusting that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t smoked.” He believes that cannabis helps an artist to be more creative, and can be more useful during the creative process, as opposed to after it, say, while editing or examining the nuanced details of a finished product. “It’s like a boost or a fun distraction, like a good strong coffee,” he explains.

Why Making Art Is Better When You’re High
Self-portrait of the artist/ Courtesy of Anthony Zito

Now that the cannabis industry is a thing and people are exploring the benefits and challenges various strains have to offer, Zito advises those who are eager to use cannabis in their creative process to research which kinds of weed can best meet their needs.

“I come from the old school where when we bought weed it was just whatever anybody had,” Zito says. “I know now that connoisseurs know their indicas from their sativas and what’s better for painting, or exercising, or couch potato-ing. I never learned all that and I suppose it would’ve made a difference… If you’re seeking inspiration from the world of buds, get to know the right strains for what you are after.”

Lisa Levy, a multi-faceted artist, creates humorous work in many formats, including text paintings, engraved text mirrors and gallery shows such as her Marina Abramovic parody, “The Artist Is Humbly Present,” where she sat naked on a toilet and gazed into strangers’ eyes. She also does funny “psychotherapy”, in a type of interview onstage in front of an audience, or through her weekly podcast, “Dr. Lisa Gives A Shit”, on Radio Free Brooklyn. Recently, she won Miss Subway 2017.

Why Making Art is Better When You're High
The Stealing Project/ Courtesy of Lisa Levy

Lisa likes smoking but worries about it affecting her lungs, so now she relies more on edibles. She calls cannabis “ a tool in a huge toolbox of tools” in relation to creating art. “I love going to museums stoned,” she explained recently, though she can also be wary of the power of weed.

“I think it needs to be treated with respect,” says Levy. “I use it when I am on leisure time and in that context, I often write ideas down. I do think it is important not to fall in love with your ideas when you’re stoned. Some of the thoughts I have when stoned are good, but sometimes they are really stupid. When I have something important to do, or a deadline for an idea, I absolutely will not get stoned. Like for example, I would never do this interview stoned. I personally think it’s disrespectful to the work, but I would never judge others for using it to create.”

Levy believes that using cannabis best serves her art during monotonous artistic duties, such as a mindless activity that must be done repetitively. “I use marijuana as a reward to get through the boring stuff. I try to use pot to make me more productive, and not to let it get in the way of what I need to get done. That said, I can get bombarded with ideas sometimes as a result of being high and some of them are really good.”

Why Making Art is Better When You're High
A Lisa Levy “text painting”/ courtesy of the artist

Whether smoking weed helps you be more creative, brainstorm new, interesting ideas, gets you out into public to harvest the materials you need, gets you moving and motivated, allows you to take on a large activity to task, or helps you sit down and actually do the work, it’s easy to see how cannabis can be a wonderful benefit to art and artists.

The only thing I regret about creating my Led Zeppelin tarot deck high is that, well, I have no idea where it is today.

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