Over the years it has been said that people who suffer from mental illness tend to be more creative people than those who do not. Whether this is a fact, or not, remains to be indisputably proven. I, personally, suffer from severe depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. Does this make me a better artist? The first literary connection between mental illness and creative talents was made in the 1970s. However, the notion that there is a link between “genius” and “madness” can be dated back to, at least, 300 B.C. Let’s take a look at the history of mental illness and creativity and how they relate to each other.
Different Types of Creative People
People can be creative in all sorts of different ways. Novelists, play-writes, Poets, Painters and Musicians have all been known to suffer from mental illness while managing to display acute creative genius. The fact that there are different categories of creative people means that it would be impossible to assume that, if mental illness does play a factor in their creative success, they would all be affected the same way. This also means that different creative people may suffer from completely different mental illnesses. For example, major depressive disorder is much more common for literary geniuses than any other mental illness.
In Ancient Greece, the gods and their Muses were believed to be the source of all creativity. Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron) once said, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.” This may be, in part, where the belief that those with mental illness have the capacity to see the world in a way that others cannot.
We of the Craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.
Research and Studies
J. Phillippe Rushton’s study found that creativity, in fact, correlates with intelligence and psychoticism. While further studies found that those who suffer from schizotypal disorder are actually more included creatively than either normal or schizophrenic individuals. However, schizotypal disorder only effects about 3% of the population (primarily males).
A study conducted in 2005 at Stanford University School of Medicine showed children shapes of varied complexity in an effort to measure creativity by asking them whether they liked or disliked each figure. This study managed to show that children who have or are at risk for bipolar disorder tend to be more fond of asymmetrical and complex shapes as opposed to the symmetric or simple symbols.
Familiar Artists with Mental Illnesses
General Mood disorders, such as manic-depressive disorder and depressive disorder have been found to have particularly strong links to creativity. In fact, this disorders are often treated using creative arts as a form of therapy. In fact, many well-known creative geniuses suffered (and in some cases succumb to) mental illness. Ernest Hemingway died by way of self inflicted gun shot wound after he had been receiving electro-convulsive treatment. The composer Robert Schumann passed away while residing within a mental institution. Virginia Woolf, the famed author, even fell pray to a depressive episode and drowned herself. Even the world-famous visual Artist Michelangelo was said to be melancholy and withdrawn, being described as having many of the symptoms that would accompany schizotypal disorder.
Creativity isn’t stopped by Feeling Happy
Just because there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests that people who suffer from mental illnesses may tend to be more creative, does not mean that being in a good mood is going to stop you from being creative. There have been mood-creativity studies done that actually prove that people are most creative when they are in a positive mood. Furthermore, it has been hinted at that mental illness may also decrease creativity. Which leads me to believe that people, like me, who are both suffering from mental illness and have a passion for creating artwork are more likely to succeed by trying our best to stay positive.
What do you think?
Do you think that mental illness is connected to creative talents? Do you have a mental illness that you think helps or hurts your artwork? Comment or Contact me!