The struggle between the creative and the vital in the artist - Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Essays on literary works - 2023

The struggle between the creative and the vital in the artist
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

I read Akutagawa Ryunosuke's Torments of Hell, the protagonist of which is the art-obsessed court painter Yoshihide.

Yoshihide's character was rather bestial. He had a disgusting disposition, and people did not like him very much. He was a miserly, unscrupulous, greedy, arrogant and arrogant person. The only person Yoshihide loved was his own daughter.

His daughter lived in the palace of His Grace, a great nobleman. She served as a chambermaid there. Daughter Yoshihide was completely different from her father. She was thoughtful, intelligent and attentive to everyone. Everyone in the palace loved her very much. There were even rumors that His Lordship was not indifferent to her. But Yoshihide did not like the presence of his daughter in the palace. And he kept asking His Lordship to release his daughter as a reward.

As I said, Yoshihide was a court painter. It is unlikely that at that time there would be a person who could compare with him with a brush in his hands.

For Yoshihide, creativity was in the first place. He lived not in the palace, but in his house, where there was a workshop in which he painted pictures.

One day, His Grace called an artist to him and ordered him to paint a screen with the torments of hell.

That's where the problems started. The fact is that Yoshihide had one peculiarity: he could not portray what he had not seen with his own eyes. And in order to paint the torments of hell in the picture, he had to see them in life.

He started with his students. Yoshihide forced the first student to strip naked and, grabbing him in chains, threw him to the floor. What torments the shackled disciple experienced, it is better not to talk about it. Suddenly, a snake crawled out of the pot and crawled up to the student, thereby stopping the sadistic bullying. But Yoshihide was far from a sadist, he was a man obsessed with creativity, for whom the most important thing was to paint this picture, no matter what torment he and others would have to go through. On the second student, he sent an owl. It all ended with the bird almost killing this student. One can admire where Yoshihide's composure came from: he calmly painted this terrible picture. There were no such stories. And thank God, there were no casualties. But then Yoshihide had one problem. There was no way he could draw a falling, burning carriage in which a girl with black hair writhed in agony. The artist told His Grace about this, asking him to burn the carriage with the court lady in front of him.

And then His Lordship behaved very strangely. He laughed, foam appeared on his lips, one would think that Yoshihide's madness infected him, and His Grace said that he would burn the carriage and put an elegant woman dressed as a court lady there, and she would die a painful death.

And His Lordship fulfilled his promise. It happened two or three days later at night at the Yukige Palace. And, of course, Yoshihide was invited there. There was a beautiful carriage in which His Lordship used to ride. Then he gave a signal to his servants, who threw back the curtain and set fire to the carriage.

When Yoshihide saw who was sitting in the carriage, he almost lost his mind, and his daughter was sitting in the carriage. Here Yoshihide wanted to rush to the carriage, but then his creative side got the better of his life, and he, crossing his arms, looked at how his daughter wriggled in agony, with a radiance of selfless delight. At the same time, all who were present at this spectacle were trembling with fear, and His Lordship, with a distorted face, pale, with foam on his lips, clutched his knees with both hands and gasped for breath. Only then did he realize what he had done. The thing is that the rumors were not false, and His Lordship really loved Yoshihide's daughter, and when she rejected him, he decided to kill her in a fit of anger.

After the event of that night, the artist completed his painting. This screen with the torments of hell was stucco, but in order to depict these torments, he himself had to go through them. But when he finished painting the picture, he hung himself from a beam in his room.

He had no more reason to live. The only person he loved died, and partly through his fault. And in the end, Yoshihide failed the test.

Yoshihide was so obsessed with creativity that all life values faded into the background. And while he was creating, he lived without noticing anything around. As soon as the work was over, the veil fell from his eyes and he realized what had happened.