Saturday, October 04, 2014

Pet Topic: The Tenuous-at-Best Link Between Mental Illness and Creativity

The shopworn notion of the tormented, suffering, often half-mad artist continues to be commonly held. This article does a very nice job surveying the scientific research on the subject and concludes the question is not completely settled, but the preponderance of the data does not favor the hypothesis. For ordinary, run-of-the-mill creativity, the link appears to be negative. For the "super-genius" (Beethoven, van Gogh, Wagner)--maybe there is something to it.

The theme I want to build on this research is: the deleterious effects of this addled notion on the young and aspiring. Notably the young people who yearn for artistic greatness that they will never possess. Such types may be drawn to mimic the dysfunctional, self-medicating behavior of the truly disturbed. The results may be a few wasted years, or occasionally, greater tragedy resulting from utterly pointless self-destructive behavior.

Then there may even be a feedback loop onto the truly gifted. A young person who is genuinely artistic may be drawn to the notion of the tormented, suffering, self-destructive artist. Either because they simply think that is how they are supposed to be, or perhaps because they believe that is the necessary price to pay to grow in their art. Either way, it can lead to more unnecessary suffering.

I would love to see a popular movie explore this theme. It would be the single most likely way to start excising it from the mass psychology.

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