I read an interesting article today that reiterates the findings of a recent study into the nature of creativity. The article, from the BBC website, states that:
“Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible…”
I’ve always wondered at the way people with creative tendencies can be prone to depression and other illnesses. History is full of troubled artists; we all know that Van Gogh cut off his own ear, whilst writers Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. Even in the modern world there are countless troubled musicians, actors and more.
But do you have to have a mental illness of some kind to excel in a creative field? I’m no expert on the subject, but it is easy to tie the two things together, especially when it comes to writing. To write you need to have the ability to be quite insular and create worlds inside your head. I find a lot of the inspiration for my writing comes from sadness, but that doesn’t make me depressive. The stories I find most profound are always tragic; romantic comedies just don’t have the same effect.
Nowadays it’s a lot easier to diagnose a mental disorder, and many more have been identified. As the BBC’s article notes, 1 in 4 people will be diagnosed with some kind of issue this year, so it’s not really surprising that there would be some overlap with those with creative personalities.
So what about a cure?
If being free of a mental disorder meant losing that intrinsic artistic spark, that desire to create, what would you choose to do? For a lot of arty types that flame is reason enough for living, and their existence no matter how troubled, would be empty without it.
What is needed is a balance. Art and music and writing can all be therapy for people with mental illnesses, which is a curious paradox, if creativity is often a symptom of the disease.
Whilst there will no doubt be a lot more research on this subject, I don’t think there are any easy answers to the question of creativity and mental illness, but it is at the core of many of the great novels and works of art.