Bergman wrote down an interesting story about a young actress who was teasing him for being too controlled—that he was not wild enough, and he didn't drink enough, and he didn't do this and that enough. And he says, well, she ended up in an insane asylum without teeth in her mouth, 50 years old. That's what she got from living herself out.
We can separate artistic pain, the experience of feeling deeply, from leading a painful life. One is not a requirement for the other. What's interesting about Bergman—he shows you can use your demons to pull your way through life. You can use them for good things instead of trying to let them destroy you. He wrote a diary every day of his life, and quotes can be read in the book called Images. One entry in particular captures the idea about the link between pain and creativity:
Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.
In the Swedish original it says “människa” (Swedish) or “menneske” (Danish), the word for human being—so, there is too much “human being” in me. It’s the human condition, you could say: memories, emotion, being, pain, even the simple fact of living, breathing. Everything at once: the human experience. We all have it, even the people who don’t—or can’t—express it through art. But it is the job of the artist to sit with our feelings, to be receptive to them, to examine them, turn them into narrative or paint or film.
And this can be difficult. Here, he describes it as a flowing-over feeling: of containing too much, holding too much, feeling too much. We must examine experience until it becomes painful, excessive, overwhelming—too much humanity.
He goes on: “It oozes out of me like a broken tube of toothpaste; it doesn’t want to stay within the confines of my body. A strange feeling of weight and volume. Soul volume perhaps, which rises like clouds of smoke and envelops my body.”
I first read this section on an island called Bornholm, not far from Sweden where Bergman lived. And sitting on a cliff there, I just went, aha, yes, I know what this is like.
All human beings have these moments when we feel this outpouring, our “soul volume,” as he says, being pushed out from us like toothpaste from a tube. Everyone feels this, but artists try to capture the feeling through art, contain it within some permanent form of expression. And when I read a good text or see a good movie or enjoy a good piece of art—it is the humanity, this poured-out human experience, that I detect.
(You have to know that there’s a bit of a double-entendre in this choice of metaphor. Bergman suffered from very bad stomach problems; he had diarrhea all the time. So this line is also humorous—when humanity became too strong in him, he had to run to the loo. That form of humanity poured from him, too.)
I've often met artists who say it's good to smoke marijuana or do this or that it will do things for things for your creativity. But basically, that's just an excuse to take it. If you’ve got humanity pouring out of your veins, you don't need anything to trigger it.