Creativity is the fuel of art from the sappiest pop song to the epic-iest sci-fi film, via the confusing stuff in art galleries and the mixed bag of the catwalk. But not every creator gets it right – even God, who left pot growing naturally all over our planet giving humans the impression they should smoke it. But it gets worse. Oliver Horton documents nine times it got worse and regret got the better of creatives. Illustrations by Bianca Bott @bblandest
1. ALFRED NOBEL
“The merchant of death is dead”, declared an 1888 obituary of Dr Alfred Nobel – “who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” This surprised Alfred, not least because he was alive. Still, the French newspaper had a point. The Swedish chemist invented dynamite, gelignite and the rocket propellant ballistite. He owned a company that made cannon, and other armaments. But the news that the world considered him a bit of a shit disturbed the sensitive, depressive doctor. He made a new will that bequeathed 94% of his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Boom! The Nobel Peace Prize transformed his reputation from warmonger to exemplar of goodwill.
1b. ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Sherlock Holmes is the quintessential detective. Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, a former physician, published the first Sherlock Holmes novel in 1887, A Study In Scarlet. He soon came to resent his cocaine-addled creation – even without seeing the tortuous Benedict Cumberbatch adaptations. Arthur believed himself above mere pulp procedurals, called the stories “hack work”. In a strange parallel, Ian Fleming, who wrote the original James Bond novels in the 1950s, despised his quintessential spy 007; Ian’s wife described the writing as “pornography”. Ian killed James Bond at the climax of the fifth novel, From Russia With Love, only to have him bounce back for Dr No. Sir Arthur also killed his hero, tossing Sherlock off a Swiss waterfall. The moody-loquacious sleuth stayed dead for a decade. But in those ten years the public went proper mental, more rabid even than the Cumberbitches, incredulous to their hero’s demise. Arthur tried to sate them with The Hound of the Baskervilles novel, set before the fall. In the end he cracked, cooked up a way for the detective to survive and wrote new Sherlock stories for 25 hate-filled years.
2. MICHAEL POWELL
A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are among the greatest films of all time. English director Michael Powell made all three in just three years, 1946-48, with Hungarian co-director Emeric Pressburger. But in 1960, the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s better-known Psycho, Michael Powell trashed his career with a single film, Peeping Tom, a solo effort. Peeping Tom follows a voyeuristic serial killer who captures his murders on camera. The British press hated it, offended by the nudity and violence. Michael was a pariah and did not work for 15 years, suffering in silence for his sordid sins. Until… super-fan Martin Scorsese, director of Taxi Driver, tracked him down and The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola brought him to the US where he was celebrated by Hollywood’s new establishment, who had been subtly ripping off Michael’s classic works during his hibernation. Peeping Tom was re-evaluated as original and subversive film-making. Everyone preferred the Powell & Pressburger stuff even so.
3. PETER BENCHLEY
Peter Benchley wrote the novel Jaws and co-wrote the 1975 film, directed by Steven Spielberg. He played a television reporter in the Fourth of July scenes. Sharks, who had hitherto been happy just to “swim and eat and make little sharks” (to quote the film), suddenly found themselves Public Enemy Number One. And not having baseball bats, radar and military-grade weaponry, they were woefully unprepared for the rabid hoards of fishermen who thought terrorizing toothy fish was to do a national service. Alarmed by the budding eco disaster he had inspired, Peter Benchley turned tail and became a shark conservationist. "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today. Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges," he told the Daily Express. His 2002 non-fiction book, Shark Trouble, explored how hype undermines the public’s understanding of marine ecosystems, in which sharks play a vital role. Duh dah – as the Jaws theme suggests.
4. ADRIANO GOLDSCHMIED
Jeans originated as denim trousers worn for manual labour such as mining and on the railroads, and were mostly known as overalls. They got adopted for cowboy films. Their working man integrity appealed to Beat poets and rock n rollers, and by the 1970s they were fully-fledged fashion. Enter Adriano Goldschmied, now called the Godfather of denim, and French designer Francois Girbaud. The pair developed stonewashing, which employs volcanic pumice stones to wear down the rigid indigo fabric. New jeans were no longer stiff and dark, but soft and light. The popularity of buying pre-aged denim went stratospheric. Everyone was doing it. Chemical processes arrived to replicate vintage looks or to create visual and 3D effects. Pumice dust and potassium permanganate and bleach galore ended up in the water. And water was already suffering: from the cotton to the dye process a single pair of jeans requires 10,000 liters of the wet stuff. Hang out by a jeans factory in Bangladesh where the streams run indigo blue. Adriano and Francois saw this and shat. These days, both lament the legacy and campaign for a more environmental approach to jeans-making. Despite working for every denim company you can shake a stick at, the only jeans Adriano wears is the most basic model of Levi’s 501. Unwashed.
5. BOB GELDOF
The Beatles may have been the first musical act to be bigger than Jesus, but for a while in the 1980s Bob Geldof was better than Jesus. Lead singer with Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats, Bob got deeply upset by TV reports of mass starvation in Ethiopia. He decided to fight famine the only way he knew how: get people more famous than him to sing a song for free. Oh, and by swearing. George Michael, Bono, Boy George and Sting were among the dozens of well-known vocals to feature on Bob’s charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? – raising millions – while David Bowie, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and Queen performed at the Bob-driven Live Aid concert the following summer. During a live appeal Bob dropped a pre-watershed f-bomb as he told viewers “give us the money”. Frightened, they did. But the road to sainthood didn’t run smooth. The Boomtown Rats broke up. Bob lost his ex-wife and daughter to (separate) heroin overdoses. And he couldn’t go into a supermarket at Xmas without hearing his tiresome ditty. He told students at Trinity College: “What I'm not really glad about is when I go to fucking Tesco and you always get a clip of Paul McCartney shit and you always get a clip of Do They Know It's Christmas?”
6. FRANCIS BACON
In the digital age, destroying your work in a mad moment can be rectified by a quick visit to the cloud. But if you’re making art in the real world, there is no going back. Claude Monet’s water lily paintings sell for tens of millions. In 1908 the Frenchman trashed 15 large canvases; he killed a further 60 just before his death. Cataracts had screwed his eyesight and his ability to judge his own work. In 1954, American artist Jasper Johns decided he hated his creations up to that point, and burnt the lot. Everything. As if it never happened. But the king of the slash is Francis Bacon. A major artist – in 2013 one of his triptychs sold for $142million – when he died in 1992 his Kensington studio contained 100 carved-up canvases, works he didn’t consider premium Bacon. But oops: “I think I tend to destroy the better paintings. I try to take them further and they lose all their qualities,” he said. Piled on the floor: portraits with the faces ripped out. Stacked against the windows and walls: larger pieces, butchered. Joke’s on him. The torn scraps now sell for thousands.
7. KURT COBAIN
Kurt Cobain once told an interviewer he couldn’t remember how to play Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana’s overplayed smash hit. This despite writing a fuck-off-everyone, sound-alike track, Rape Me, for the band’s third album. In Utero was intended as commercial suicide, to rid the band of invasive media scrutiny and loud, laddish macho fans. But following record company pressure the band got cold feet, and compromised the album with poppier versions of a couple of tunes. Kurt couldn’t live up to the impossible creative standards to which he aspired, and people were beginning to notice his references. Come As You Are is similar to Killing Joke’s Eighties while Smells Like Teen Spirit has the whiff of Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla and Boston’s More Than A Feeling. Plenty of musicians have learnt to hate their own tunes. Radiohead described Creep as crap. Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant despised their best-known track Stairway To Heaven. Their solution was practical: stop playing the song. Kurt, dear Kurt, took a more draconian approach, self-death by shotgun.
8. JOHN SYLVAN
John Sylvan created a machine that brewed single cups of coffee using sealed capsules of ground beans. Like Nespresso but, y’know, American. He called the thing Keurig, which means “excellence” in Danish or whatever – he pulled the word out of a dictionary. John had problems along the way: testing the Keurig on himself he got to drinking 40 cups of coffee daily and wound up in hospital with caffeine poisoning. No matter, his creation was a big hit, and Keurig Green Mountain is now a multi-billion-dollar company, ten per cent of which belongs to Coca-Cola. “It’s like a cigarette for coffee,” he told The Atlantic magazine, reflecting on its addictive potency. John doesn’t own a Keurig these days. Indeed, he is more guilty than a Scottish wedding. No hang on, that’s kilt-y. But why does John feel so bad? Well, those little coffee pods do not biodegrade and can’t be recycled. So the plastic ends up breaking down in the oceans and other waterways; the particles consumed by fish or by us, and probably leading to a global rise in illnesses. John’s life’s work has been a long run-up to kick Planet Earth in the nuts.
9. SHIA LA BOEUF
“In light of the recent attacks against my artistic integrity I am retiring from all public life,” twittered Shia LaBeouf. And then things got interesting. The Transformers actor unleashed a tsunami of insanity on an unsuspecting world, and turned regret (or at least apology) into living art. In 2012, at Cannes, he unveiled his directorial debut, a short film called HowardCantour.com… later revealed to have been heavily plagiarized from a graphic novelette by Daniel Clowes. Shia apologized on Twitter, but plagiarized his apologies from sources as diverse as Mark Zuckerberg, Tiger Woods and Yahoo! Answers. Following extreme behaviour that included pulling a tooth, living in a tank, live-streaming his acid trip and getting arrested while attending a production of Cabaret, Shia stepped up the mea culpa with the #iamsorry exhibit: him in a room and punters coming along to blame him for anything at all (or to hang with a celebrity). Sometimes he’d pop a paper bag on his head. Written on its surface in black marker pen: “I am not famous anymore.” Another of his art exhibits demonstrated new lows in human degradation: Shia live-streamed himself in a cinema watching every one of his films, #allmymovies. It took three days. Best reviews of his career.