Absolutely. I wish I had the mental wherewithal right now to do a web search for the essay Joyce Carol Oates wrote on this very subject several years ago (I think it ran in The New York Times Magazine, but I could be mistaken), where she took on the whole “suffering artist” topic as an extension of an American/Puritan ethic.
Look, everything I say about writing is my opinion, and only that. I am an authority on my own work, barely, that’s all. But I firmly, absolutely believe that good writing rises from two, intimately connected, places: empathy and honesty. The extension of the argument “write what you know” — when taken literally — means that we shouldn’t have fiction. But that’s not what it means, at least, not for my purposes; rather, it’s write what you know to be true. That’s an emotional truth, a universal truth. Certainly, experience of trauma and other hardships will provide insight into those things, will, perhaps, provide an access into writing about them that others cannot achieve. But to deny imagination, empathy… that’s utter nonsense.
I will not deny that there are some beautiful, powerful works brought to us by some very damaged, tragic souls. But I do not — I can not — believe that personal suffering on a Grand Scale is required to create meaningful or lasting work. I do not, and cannot, believe that we must “suffer for our art,” if by suffering for our art we mean exposure to the cruelest and most inhumane experiences imaginable. Anyone who has struggled to put the right words on the page, the right line on the canvas, the right shape cut into the marble, etc… they have suffered for their art. They needn’t become heroin addicts to then prove it.
I’m sure there are many who will disagree with me. But from where I’m sitting, it’s your voice, your ability to imagine, to empathize, and to relay those things that connect us all with honesty and courage that will create great art.