True Art Is Angsty

"It isn't gloomy, it's profound."

The experts have spoken! Only the grimmest of tragedies can effectively explore the fragility of human life, the crushing agony of love and regret, and other life-defining themes, such as why mommy never really loved you and the ultimate futility of happiness. Anything with an unambiguously Happy Ending is a piece of cheap boring commercial tripe or even propaganda. (And outright comedies? Bourgeois garbage!)

Naturally, nobody's really the good guy in these stories. If there is a sympathetic viewpoint character, don't expect their suffering to be the prelude to a ultimate triumph. No, they've got to be traumatized for life, or even killed off, along with their friends. Heck, if there is a bad guy, why not let 'em win and get away with it scot-free while we're at it? That ought to drive home the message that life is suffering.

Related to Comedy Ghetto, Oscar Bait, Maturity Is Serious Business, Death by Newbery Medal, Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!, Creator Breakdown and Creator Recovery.

Contrast Angst Aversion, and Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!. Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy is an audience reaction voicing emphatic disagreement with the creator's notion of this trope.

Note: In-Universe Examples Only, please.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Octave: Setsuko gains some praise for a song she composed during a rough patch of her relationship with Yukino.
  • Translucent: The philosophy of Shizuka's idol, the visiting stage actress. She sees Shizuka practicing outside by herself, and figures out that the drama advisor must have asked her to hide because of her translucent syndrome acting up. The end of the chapter is the actress talking during an interview where she says she feels angst is important for a developing actress.

    Comic Book 
  • Arne Anka: Arne seems to belive this, with most of his work being either incredibly confusing, or dark and depressing.
  • Bamse: Usually, Brum's artwork is pretty cheery, but the trope was invoked in the story where he went through a "dark" period due to a rejection from a girl he liked and was promptly "discovered" as an artist.
  • In the final issue of Flex Mentallo, the Hoaxer invokes this trope while discussing the nature of comics. He mentions how it's usually the darkest, most depressing books that win the most acclaim, but goes on to argue that the desire to have everything be as bleak and Darker and Edgier as possible is just as juvenile as an insistence on constant happy endings.
  • X-Men: An anthology story had Colossus running into someone who believed this at an art exhibition, criticising Piotr's initial artwork for not being nihilistically depressing. For whatever reason, Piotr decides this guy has a point, and paints another piece while thinking about his dead little sister. The gloomy art critic approves of this second piece.

    Comic Strips 
  • Funky Winkerbean: The parents who don't like the drama class performing the play Wit because "School plays are for fun and relaxation, not art."

    Film 
  • In The Life of Émile Zola, Zola insists on writing about all the injustices and social ills of French society. When the publisher that Zola works for suggests that Zola write about safer topics Zola reacts with contempt, and the publisher fires him.
  • Moulin Rouge!: How people react to Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec's art.
  • Parodied in The LEGO Movie. Wyldstyle claims that Batman is a 'true artist' because he's dark and brooding. In addition, his song is pretty much entirely about darkness and having no parents.

    Literature 
  • Atlas Shrugged: Balph Eubank is a major proponent of the idea.
  • Spes Phthisica: Helen's art only becomes popular when the dead landscapes of her dreams start entering into it

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Crazy Ones: Invoked by Simon in "Sydney, Australia" while he is trying to get Danny Chase, Sydney's stalker-ish former co-workernote  (played by Josh Groban), to sell him the rights to the saccharine love song he'd written. Simon succeeds by pointing out that the material written after Sydney broke the co-worker's heart is much better than the song he's trying to buy.
  • Doctor Who: In "Vincent and The Doctor", Dr Black — Bill Nighy's character — who is an art expert, explains in Van Gogh's presence how the latter managed to "transform the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty" and "use [his] passion and pain to portray the joy and ecstasy and magnificence of our world". And this is why he is the greatest artist who ever lived.
  • Drop the Dead Donkey: Joy's doodles of hideous fates for her superiors are lauded as high art.
  • The Joy Of Painting: Invoked only to be defied by Ross, who said, "We want happy paintings. Happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news."
  • Parks and Recreation: Andy thinks the opposite is true.
    Andy: 'Cause your music is sad, and depressing, and weird, and art...is supposed to happy, and fun, and everyone knows that.
  • Six Feet Under: Played straight with everyone but Claire. Claire attains some moderate artistic success with a more upbeat portfolio, but keeps trying to pitch her own work, which is all gloomy shots of gravestones. No one is interested.
  • Brian from Spaced can only paint when he's unhappy. When he starts dating Twist and becomes very happy, he can't paint anymore, until someone tells him that his uncle died.
  • Lampshaded in the penultimate episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, where the guys discuss giving the show a Darker and Edgier Kill 'em All finale for the sake of winning acclaim and awards. They specifically cite the similar bleak ending to the final series of Blackadder. To that end, they seek out and kill the cheeriest cast member they can find for the sake of "Narrative Purposes".
    Robert Webb: If this series is to mean anything, someone's got to die!

    Music 
  • Satirized in the song Miserablism by Pet Shop Boys. The Other Wiki article suggests that it was aimed at Morrissey, formerly of The Smiths.
    Deny that happiness
    is open as an option
    ...
    No happy endings
    but a message to depress
    ...
    Just for the sake of it
    make sure you're always frowning
    (Angst! Angst! Angst!)
    It shows the world
    that you've got substance and depth
  • The song "Fueled by Angst" by Worm Quartet is about the performer's life becoming so good that he no longer has anything to complain about.

    Video Games 
  • Mac Guffins Curse: Played for laughs. The Mayor's office is full of abstract paintings, and Lucas is generally unimpressed.
    Lucas: "This one's called 'PAIN BEAUTIFUL PAIN' but it's just a bunch of squares. The corners could be sharp, I guess?"

    Visual Novels 
  • Gen Urobuchi is definitely on the side of those who consider happy stories to be unrealistic, to the point where he has actually suggested that Lighter and Softer stories, by definition, contradict the laws of nature and are therefore difficult to write and impossible to believe.
    "I have nothing but contempt for the deceitful thing men call 'happiness', and find myself with no choice but to push my characters, whom I pour my heart and soul out to create, into the abyss of tragedy."

    Webcomic 

    Web Original 
  • Air Heads: Claudia Malave's mother states that even as a young child, Claudia would’ve rather “drawn a witch under the moonlight than a princess.”
  • During a review of Angel:
As usual there's plenty of angst and gloom:

    Western Animation