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True Art Is Angsty

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

The experts have spoken! Only the grimmest of tragedies can effectively explore the fragility of human existence, 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 is really the good guy in these stories. If there are sympathetic viewpoint characters, don't expect their suffering to be the prelude to a ultimate triumph. No, they have got to be traumatized for life, or even killed off, along with their friends. Heck, if there are bad guys, why not let them win and get away with it scot-free while we are 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 (though they can overlap) 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.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Octave: Setsuko gains some praise for a song she composed during a rough patch of her relationship with Yukino.
  • Princess Tutu: The author Drosselmeyer is fanatically obsessed with pain and tragedy. He flat-out states that he considers stories with happy endings to be "boring." It likely comes from having been struck by tragedy himself, being essentially killed and having to write himself back into existence with his last breath because the townspeople around him were afraid of him. Heavy duty Creator Breakdown followed.
  • In the 25th chapter of Spy X Family, the terrible Griffin model that Damian made (with Anya's "help") somehow won first prize. Apparently, the judges were moved by its determination to "stand proudly despite its plucked wings", which serves as "a powerful vision of our nation as it rebounds from the war". Neither Damian nor Mr. Henderson agree with the judgment, and still see the resulting model as nothing but trash.
  • 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 Books 
  • In one Archie Comics strip, Betty submits a macaroni sculpture depicting a victorious athlete for an art contest, and was lambasted by the critics for being too naively optimistic. When the heat of the spotlight causes the sculpture to melt, the critics start to praise its brutal portrayal of despair. However, Betty defies this by declaring that life isn't just Angst, embraces a positive outlook of life, and withdraws from the competition.
  • 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.
  • Daredevil: One of Daredevil's more recent villains, Muse, is very much a Mad Artist, so naturally he believes this. What's interesting, however, is that Muse believes the process of art should be angsty and almost never mentions the art itself, going into detail about how people just assume that a work of art is instantaneous, fully sprung from the artist's mind.
  • Grant Morrison's Animal Man run gradually turns out to be a massive Deconstruction of this attitude and the negative effects it sometimes has on artists and their work. His run climaxes with Animal Man meeting Grant himself in the form of an Author Avatar that is suffering a Creator Breakdown where he turns to this trope in a misguided attempt to cope with personal losses, an inability to change the world, and general artistic disillusionment. Animal Man is forced to confront the existential horror of knowing that his life is being systematically ruined all for the sake of cheap drama and propping up the political beliefs of his writer. Ultimately, this conversation drives Grant to a change of heart, realizing that even fictional characters can deserve to be treated with some kindness and dignity, using a Deus ex Machina to undo the suffering he put Animal Man through and implicitly regaining some measure of enjoyment from writing.
    We thought that by making your world more violent, we would make it more "realistic", more "adult". God help us if that's what it means...

    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."

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
    • Also comes up in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, this time played more seriously as an aspect of the conflict between Finn (who has come to subscribe to this trope) and his sister (who hasn't). It's brutally deconstructed, as it's ultimately shown how this trope, in its own way, is just as childish as naive idealism.
  • At the start of Bolt, a woman from the network tells the director of Bolt's Show Within a Show that the show is too formulaic and optimistic. They are losing the 18-35 audience because the show is too happy for them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
    • Also the ending itself, as what starts out as a happy love story with humor to spare eventually evolves into a tragic drama (though the framing narrative reveals at the start that it will end this way); Satine's consumption is only brought up in the third act, the doctor told others before her, and it guarantees that she'll die at the end.
    • Most likely because the whole plot is heavily inspired by the opera La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi, where Violetta (Satine's opera counterpart) also shows mild symptoms during Act 1, but is only severely ill and dies at the end, just minutes after her lover reconciles with her.
  • In The Third Man, Harry Lime makes the remark (which was written by Orson Welles):
    Harry Lime: You know what the fellow said — in Italy, for thirty years under The Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and The Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.
  • The inciting incident of Cold Souls has Paul Giamatti remove his soul to better play the titular role of an Uncle Vanya stage production as the intense material drives him to tears during the middle of rehearsal. Taking out his soul fixes that problem, but it ultimately robs him of the ability to act.

  • Atlas Shrugged: Balph Eubank is a major proponent of the idea.
  • Parodied in Isaac Asimov's Author! Author!, in which the protagonist, a successful author of detective stories which he despises, wants to write a Serious Novel.
    June: Is the setting a coal-mine district?
    Graham: Uh— yes.
    June: And are the people concerned real, earthy, unartificial, down-to-earth characters, speaking and thinking just like you and me? Is it a story of basic economic forces? Are the human characters lifted up and thrown down and whirled around, all at the mercy of the coal mine and mechanized industry of today?
    Graham: Uh— yes.
    June: I remember distinctly. First, you got drunk and were sick. Then you got better, and told me the first few chapters. Then I got sick.
  • In his Confessions, young Augustine, like many his age, used to love plays and theatre because seeing characters be so miserable on stage would cause him to feel misery and compassion for them. When he's older and escaped many of his own self-inflicted miseries, Augustine finds his enjoyment of tragic shows pathetic because they let one excuse themselves for their staying in their own miseries.
  • Mocked in IT, which, like many Stephen King stories, features a writer as a major character. Bill Denborough, one of the novel's leads, attends a writing program in college in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and finds himself butting heads against the other students in the class and even the teacher, who insists on analyzing every detail of every story in an anti-war, psychosexual model (the same teacher praises another student's play, which lasts for hours and consists of a cast of actors repeating individual words — one word each — that eventually become a sentence against capitalism). When Bill finally gets tired of the constant insistence on finding deeper meanings in everything they write, he asks, "Can't you guys just let a story be a story?" Notably, he's the only one in his class who becomes a major success.
  • Life of Pi plays with this trope. The main story is a fantastical one about Pi surviving 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The officials do not believe this account, so Pi tells an alternate, but similar story in which the animal characters are replaced with humans who cannibalize each other, with the audience implicitly being posed the question of which one is true. Those who believe in this trope may be more inclined towards the human story.
  • Spes Phthisica: Helen's art only becomes popular when the dead landscapes of her dreams start entering into it.
  • Alex in Terry Goodkind's The Law Of Nines is criticized by an art gallery owner for only creating paintings that look beautiful and celebrate life and other dumb stuff like that, instead of exploring humanity's inherent depravity like a real artist.
  • Harry from Eye of a Fly, who dreams of writing the Great American Novel, seems to believe both this and True Art Is Incomprehensible.
    Patricia: You wrote twenty-five pages about taking a shit? That's your fucking work of art?
    Harry: It's a metaphor for life, goddamn it! You strain and strain, and it never comes out the way you want.

    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.
  • Girl Meets World: Maya Hart does very well in art class and uses it to express her difficult life living in borderline poverty with her single mother and a Disappeared Dad that left when she was 6 years old. In contrast, Riley Matthews has a stable home life with a nuclear middle-class family and her art skills mimics that of an average kindergarten student and multiple paintings of purple cats, no matter the assignment. Lampshaded by Riley when the art teacher still encourages her to do art because she enjoys it.
    Riley: I’m a happy artist...This is why I stink.
  • In season three of The Good Place, it is revealed that Kamilah's creative drive is born from the emotionally toxic Sibling Rivalry she and her sister Tahani had forced upon them by their abusive parents.
  • 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.
  • Humorously parodied in these sketches from Saturday Night Live. Six high school students put on a bizarre, supposedly symbolic show about contemporary life, including the all-white cast pretending to be shot and declaring "AND WE WERE ALL BLACK" and annoying audience interaction. Their parents, and even the drama teacher (who is seen chain-smoking cigarettes), are all confused and occasionally offended by the "artistic" piece.
  • 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!

  • 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.
  • Frou Frou's song "The Dumbing Down of Love" contains the line "Music is worthless unless it can make a complete stranger break down and cry."
  • Bowling for Soup:
    • Mocked rather ruthlessly in the song "I'm Gay."
      I think rock and roll is really funny when it's serious.
      Don't hate us 'cause we're happy,
      don't hate us 'cause we're beautiful!
      Don't hate us if we make you smile,
      or if we go the extra mile
      to make someone feel better on a really shitty day.
      If you're hearin' what I'm sayin', then I want you to say:
      I'M GAY!
    • Most of the band's work in general makes a point to avert this — even their sad/angry songs tend to have a silver lining to them, or at least a bit of comedy to take the edge off.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Defied by the Troubadors of Princess: The Hopeful. Their First Oath is that their art must always be used to inspire and uplift, never to cause despair or stifle hope.

    Video Games 
  • MacGuffin's 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?
  • In Alice: Madness Returns, in the oriental level, the Cheshire Cat has this to say about one of the paintings.
    Cheshire Cat: The artist obliterated the distinction between poetry and pessimism.
  • Played with and ultimately subverted in Persona 5. Yusuke’s Confidant arc has him attempting to portray "the grim, painful struggles of humanity" through his artwork, but he is met with derision in the art community. It is only when he learns to see both sides of humanity, the good and the bad, and portrays it in his work that he gains success.
  • Rimworld: Certainly true for pawns with the Tortured Artist trait. They get a pronounced and permanent mood debuff, which puts them at higher risk of having a mental break... but every time they have a mental break of any severity, once it ends they have a high chance to get Inspired Creativity, and thus make a piece of much better quality than usual; a masterful artist can end up creating Legendary pieces this way. This being Rimworld, aka "Warcrime Simulator", there will be many, many ways to keep such pawns inspired.

    Web Animation 
  • Extra Credits: Discussed in the episode "Hard Boiled", where they show that just because Max Payne 3 is Darker and Edgier than its previous entries in its series, doesn't inherently make it more artistic.
  • Parodied in Awesome Fantasy VII where Cloud and Vincent act hilariously emo, ending with an old man telling his grandson "And that's why it's the best game ever!"
  • Parodied in the Eddsworld short Art is Serious, where Edd makes an animation which is initially about a joyous-looking little girl, but Tom instructs him to add more angst to it by making the girl in the animation look more angsty and with darker colours, and the final animation being about said girl crying in a somber forest with a sad music. Ultimately subverted with a quick rolling credits cut and the girl farting while doing a goofy face.

  • Ava's Demon: Tuls Tenebrose liked a girl named Ranunculae, but then he died before he Could Spit It Out. He now spends his days in Maggie's Dream World, painting portraits of Ranunculae to the point of bordering on a Room Full of Crazy.
  • Last Res0rt: Kurt "Geisha" Striaeta figured out that not only was it easier to just kidnap, rape, and petrify his victims in order to make his sculptures, it also got him better reviews from the critics too.
  • Penny and Aggie: In-universe, Aggie's rigid adherence to this attitude helps her to produce florid poetry and abysmal videos, and blinds her to the fact that she's quite good at drawing.
  • True Believers: Joe Quesadilla claims this as his reason Spider-Man would sell better if Spidey weren't Happily Married.
  • In The Bird Feeder #143, Lewis states that to sing as well as him, your soul must be filled with terrible sorrow.
  • Sarah's Scribbles rejects this in one of her webcomics, arguing that a happy artist makes great art.
  • Dominic Deegan: When Gregory starts up his own band, he and his band members draw upon a theme of "honest and ugly", reflecting the corruption in the world and Greg's own horrific experiences with necromancy and dark magic. The results are somewhat mixed, with half the audience walking out of his debut concert and some dicey reviews, but he apparently finds enough success to make a living off it.
  • The Nerf NOW!! strip "The Ends" associates this trend with indie studios being more "artistic" about their games (though by no means exclusive to them). In comparison, it depicts the AAA studio as making a good ending "so the players are happy with the experience and buy the sequel" while siding with them nonetheless because good endings feel good.

    Web Original 
  • Airheads: Claudia Malave's mother states that even as a young child, Claudia would've rather "drawn a witch under the moonlight than a princess."
  • Television Without Pity: During a review of Angel:
    Strega As usual there's plenty of angst and gloom.
  • SCP-3817 from the SCP Foundation is an immortal clone of deceased German composer Felix Mendelssohn whose body has numerous self-inflicted injuries. He has no intention to end his existence, but instead embraces his suffering because he believes it enhances his artistic merit, owing the decision to the other great artists whose difficult lives inspired their work. Turns out his work hasn’t changed at all.

    Web Videos 
  • Commentary! The Musical: Parodied, of course. (With Self-Deprecation, as Joss Whedon known for putting his characters through the wringer.)
    Neil Patrick Harris: An Internet musical is a wacky idea that's zany! Where did it come from?
    Joss Whedon: It came from pain.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History: Bob Ross accuses Picasso of this and specifically mentions his "Blue Period". This contrasts his own belief that paintings can be happy and loving.
  • The Cinema Snob parodies this as part of the character, such as insisting that if you have a movie with a plot similar to Xanadu it should take itself a lot more seriously. Though he also parodies the inconsistent application of this mindset when it comes to certain genres, such as Slasher Movies.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: "Legends of the Dark Mite!" takes a hilarious swipe at viewers who complain about the Lighter and Softer feel of the series.
    Fanboy dressed as Batman: I always felt Batman was best suited in the role of gritty urban crime detective? But now you guys have him up against Santas? And Easter Bunnies? I'm sorry, but that's not my Batman!
    The Creators: [whispering among themselves, eventually handing a note to Bat-Mite] Here, read this.
    Bat-Mite: Batman's rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it's certainly no less valid and true to the character's roots as the tortured avenger crying out for Mommy and Daddy. [makes the paper disappear] And besides, those Easter Bunnies looked really scary, right?!
    Bruce Timm: [dressed as Mark Hamill's Joker] Meh.
  • What's Opera, Doc?: Invoked by Bugs Bunny at the punchline:
    Bugs: Well what did ya expect in an opera — a happy ending?
  • Mocked by The Fairly OddParents, at the end of the episode "Action Packed", when a French kid is given back his fairy godfather: "My heart she is glad! But my art... she will suffer...".
  • Parodied in one episode of Kaeloo, where Stumpy shoots his own head off with a bazooka after making art, since Mr. Cat told him that artists revel in pain.
  • BoJack Horseman:
    • During season 2, Bojack and film director Kelsey Jannings try to make a gritty, realistic and tragic movie about the life of the racehorse Secretariat. The studio eventually develops some reservations about the movie, leading to Kelsey getting fired and a script rewrite making the movie more sentimental and optimistic with a new director attached. This is portrayed as a creatively bankrupt decision made entirely with money and audience accessibility in mind, with the new direction being treated as trite and hackneyed compared to the honest, emotionally weighty movie that Bojack and Kelsey wanted to make. Though things become a bit more mixed when the movie is released and it's a lot better than Bojack was expecting.
    • In season 6, Diane is attempting to write up a memoir about herself and her rough past, such as her Abusive Parents, childhood bullying, divorce, depression, and other personal traumas. However, she finds that she can't put her experiences into words no matter how hard she tries, but does have fun writing up a light-hearted detective story about a girl named "Ivy Tran" while procrastinating. The trope is deconstructed, as she's angry at herself for being unable to share her life-story with others because it would mean that everything she suffered through was meaningless in the end and this realization greatly worsens her mental health. After considerably prompting from her boyfriend Guy, Guy's son, and Princess Carolyn, she eventually decides to publish the Ivy Tran story instead and write children's novels instead of an angsty memoir, with the lesson that personal trauma doesn't need to define something, sometimes it's just meaningless.


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