On Creativity & Madness

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Creativity is often connected to mental illness, Swedish research has found, confirming a widely-held belief. Writers appear to be most susceptible, with a raised risk of anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, unipolar depression and substance abuse; they’re also twice as likely to kill themselves when compared to the general population.

So is it time we began focusing on the more positive aspects of psychiatric disorders – the fact that schizophrenia may enable a painter to produce unique images, or bipolar disorder give a poet the drive to write? It seems largely true that great works of art and literature are rarely the products of balanced, unruffled minds (wandering around the recent Munch exhibition at Tate Modern was a stark reminder of this). Creative people are usually very sensitive; this often goes hand-in-hand with empathy and imagination. But it also tends to mean you feel things very intensely, hence the risk of depression, anxiety, alcoholism and other disorders.

But there is a risk of glamourising mental disorders. Let’s not forget many of these illnesses can grind you down so you can barely lift your head off the pillow, let alone pen a poem. Much time can be wasted drinking, worrying obsessively or trying to find the energy to brush your teeth. The musician Kristin Hersh says of her bipolar disorder: “I hated the connection between mental illness and art. I couldn’t stand that you had to be sick in order to create beauty, or confused to create truth. It made no sense. It was a huge relief to be essentially cured.” I wonder how many talented writers/painters/musicians would swap their gifts for peace of mind?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eric
    Oct 18, 2012 @ 10:23:36

    The first paragraph did make me laugh and coincides with the idea that to find a new way to express a common idea or something, you have to look at it through a twisted lens, and if the lens isn’t twisted, you have to do the twisting yourself, which is something that I found, if not depressing, disheartening.

    When I’m cleaner, I tend to be able to produce more and there is a consistency to my train of thought that I like. When I’m a bit twisted, I like the way an image can present itself to me and re-emerge in a seemingly uncontrived way.

    When straighter, sometimes ideas seem a little contrived or trite, or maybe that’s just the paranoia of someone who discovered the joy of words during the second summer of love. But I have produced some great – as in I’m proud of it, even if it’s worth nothing outside of my own notebook – things.

    I think, once you’ve seen the world in a certain way, whether through chemical assistance or psychiatric inheritance, you are still able to activate that window without the need to dredge the recesses of your soul or pump your body full of elephant tranquillizer, I hope so anyway ;)

    Reply

  2. Ginny
    Oct 18, 2012 @ 16:02:45

    We celebrate difference that all we have to do, whether thats cultural or more unique to an individual at certain points in life when mental illness heightens certain insights abilities.

    Reply

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