The Oscars are on Sunday, which means we can expect to hear about all those poor tortured artists on the red carpet: needle-pocked faces, gym-thrashed bodies, power-sanded toes thrust into bone-realignment heels. But no real tortured artists. Unless Daniel Day-Lewis shows up.

Among the stars will be Natalie Portman, who seems the least tortured and maladjusted in real life, with her burgeoning baby bump and vegan smile. Yet her Oscar-nominated turn as Nina in Black Swan sees her tormented into believing she has feathers growing out of her shoulders. As the prima ballerina on the cusp of a role that sees good and evil cavorting within her, she is wracked by anxiety, haunted by hallucinations.

It calls to mind the 1948 ballet movie, The Red Shoes, not to mention the countless other films and works of art that spring from the minefield that is the so-called tortured artist - Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in Lust for Life, Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock in Pollock, even Isaac in Heroes as the junkie who painted the future.

There's always been a strong link between mental disorder and creativity. You'd expect that brains with unusual wiring would perceive the world differently.

The irony is, you actually can't create much when you're in the throes of paranoia or depression. Hence such helpful afflictions as writers' block, which affects even the happiest creatives.

When the pressure's on, it's like knowing you have to cut your own arm off but not being able to go through with it. If only Aron Ralston, the mountaineer on which the Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours is based, was there to remove the block.

So surely it's nigh impossible to dance when you're slowly being destroyed by your obsession.

There's no doubting Portman's killer performance as a dancer suffering from borderline personality disorder but is there really such a thing as a tortured artist any more? In a culture where emos are mocked, the perennially upbeat Glee is one of the hottest shows on TV and the slightest malaise can be treated - or masked - with prescription pills, it seems we're losing our tolerance for the messed up art-makers of the world.

Musicians just can't carry on like the Motley Crue if they expect to keep a record deal these days. It almost doesn't matter how talented the likes of Pete Docherty, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are - they've lost their Charlie Sheen.

Yet the history books are brimming with tormented souls: Frida Kahlo, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath (among many) and, in more recent years, Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain, Hunter S. Thompson, Heath Ledger (although we'll never really know) and Michael Jackson.

Where are the depressed Wordsworths, the misunderstood Tchaikovskys and the terrified Edvard Munches? It feels like a romantic notion from yesteryear. Perhaps there is less celebration of this archetype because there's better education surrounding mental disorder, better appreciation for art and an abundance of information as to how to overcome the occasional misery of being an artist. Plus, less syphilis.

Julia Cameron, former wife of Martin Scorsese, was an alcoholic who kicked her drinking habits and emerged revitalised in her writing and ready to help other "blocked" artists recapture their creativity with her books, such as the eternally popular The Artist's Way.

Cameron says free-writing activities help to remove creativity's nemesis, the ego or self-critic; she also suggests creativity must be nurtured by life experience.

In her book, she sets homework tasks such as treating your inner artist as a child, taking it on little creative dates to galleries or beaches or unusual shops to inspire and fire the imagination. Which you could say is what Nina did in Black Swan when she went on a bender with Mila Kunis' character, Lily - and look where that got her.

Art imitates life, after all, and if there's not much happening in life, inspiration can dry up. Children's writer Kate de Goldi once told me why it's so important for writers to carry a notebook, jotting down seemingly inconsequential things of interest: often the subconscious will spit these details back out, often when you least expect it. In the instant of creation, the mind can throw up connections you might not otherwise have seen.

You just have to fill the well, as Cameron might say, and let your subconscious (or whichever spiritual guide you believe you are channelling), do the rest. Wrote Dylan Thomas: "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower."

There is one line in Black Swan that rings especially true - when Nina's creepy choreographer tells her she is the only one standing in her way. He might as well be saying, stop thinking and let your inner artist come out to play.