The dawn of man was soon followed by the birth of curious types, seeking to alter their mental state and express it in every which way they could: song, dance, rudimentary forms of painting and inscription.
After thousands of years you'd be forgiven for being blasé about the subject. But a certain mystique refuses to budge when we talk about drugs and art. So why are we still intrigued when the two collide?
Drugs as a creative burden
"[He's] playing a slightly ironic game," suggests Jay, "saying that to the common person [opium is] just a painkiller, but to people like me -- an artist -- it takes me to places you can't even dream of or imagine.
"The pleasure and the marvels are beyond your imagination. But so are the perils and the pains."
De Quincey's ambivalence -- a sense of both pride and anguish towards the burden of creativity and drug consumption -- is an image that has been cultivated by others and has carried great currency in the centuries that followed.
Drugs as an experiment
Some artists have experimented with drugs in a clinical fashion, embracing the notion, as Jay puts it, that "drugs are not great for writing and drawing and physically doing work."
Jay describes how throughout the twentieth century "drug use was pathologized, marginalized and socially excluded." Taking this to its local endpoint was Zurich/London art collective !Mediengruppe Bitnik.
Items were picked at random and delivered to the Kunst Halle in St. Gallens, Switzerland. One day the bot decided to throw a party, when it bought 10 ecstasy pills concealed in a DVD case. Like the other items bought on the dark web, they went on display, contraband becoming an artistic expression, in and of itself.
Drugs as a medium
Other artists are more playful when it comes to drugs, riffing on perceptions and preconceptions of illicit substance use (and abuse).
A Yorick for Generation X, the artist explains the piece is not intended to be a "parable on the self-destructiveness of addiction or substance abuse," as you might expect. Instead it's intended to be a meditation on the conflict between civility and our animal instincts -- a conflict resolved by the drug.
The enduring appeal
Some artists have earned fortunes from their drug-inspired art; others notoriety. But as consumers, what's its enduring appeal?
"It forms a bridge into a kind of demimonde," suggests Jay. "I think on one level it's as prosaic as that."
"On another I think drugs are about raw, unmediated experience in a world that's increasingly mediated. We live very safe lives, relatively speaking," he says.
"I think we still have a sense that there's something connected with drugs that can take us into realms, types of immediate experiences that are hard to come by in our mediated culture."
It's a conceit, of course. For most of the works detailed above -- "Rhythm 2" a notable exception -- our experience and interaction with them is mediated by the gallery environment, a safe space, like Scharf's "Closets", in which to reach into this illicit world.
You could go as far as to argue we consume this art almost for the same reason we consume drugs.
"You're taking a drug for a new experience," says Jay. "It could be fantastic or it could be terrible -- but it's going to feel real."
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