Saturday, October 18, 2008

Creativity and madness -- are they linked?

A few days ago at the grocery store, I picked up the new Rolling Stone magazine -- which was a bitch to find because they changed the format to a narrow page. And that was just disconcerting to see, but that's a different rant.

I picked up the magazine not for the Obama love-fest on the cover, but for the feature on the last days of David Foster Wallace, who I consider to be one of the great writers of our time. The article is an interesting and heartbreaking look at someone who was a genius, but also had some really dark, evil demons following his every move.

It admittedly got me to thinking about all the great writers I know and love. Hunter S. Thompson, Anne Lamott, Tom Robbins, Terry Pratchett. Out of that list, one writer killed himself, another one had a drug and alcohol addiction, one's a hippie nutjob at times, and well, one's British and sees the world in odd ways.

Other great writers and artists had demons following them around -- Hemmingway killed himself. Sylvia Plath died by her own hand also. There's plenty others we can name, and maybe even others that aren't so famous, toiling away trying to make it.

I started reflecting on my own life -- I don't have the same disorders that plagued some of my favorite writers, but admittedly, you can't say that I'm of a "normal" mindset. I've gotten some funks that required outside perspective to get my mind right.

Then I stumbled on a CNN article where experts ponder that connection:

Creative people in the arts must develop a deep sensitivity to their surroundings -- colors, sounds, and emotions, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. Such hypersensitivity can lead people to worry about things that other people don't worry about as much, he said, and can lead to depression.
So, I guess, knowing the creative types that peruse this blog, I gotta toss out the question: Do you think there's a connection or not? Why?


QuietlyGoingMad said...

And let's not forget Poe...who spent a majority of his life in a drunken stupor and destitute due to his most volatile ways.

I'm not necessarily sure how creative I am when it comes to writing, but I can attest that my drawings tend to be most definitely set in the darker side of things--the worse my mood, whether it be anger or depression, the better the drawings seem to be.

Amanda said...

Ooh man, you picked the right month to pose that query.

As an actor, *leans back in chair while James Lipton shuffles his cards* having to access all your emotions, especially the darkest ones, can be detressing. Sometimes you have to go to a place that's frightening or sorrowful, and unless you are extremely healthy, getting back into off-stage life can be difficult. I just read an article about a woman playing the lead in "Rabbit Hole" and how she heads back to the dressing room to sob for half an hour after every show.

In general I think hypersensitivity has a lot to do with it. This world was made for the cutthroat, and that can be exhausting for the sensitive among us. It's not necessarily the creative process itself, but the world around us.

When I'm performing or writing, I'm on top of the world. My work comes from a place of such joy, it's almost like a high. When I take myself out of it, that's when I'm at my darkest. When I'm not writing enough or catering too much or for whatever reason just not creating like I should, I get depressed. I sleep a lot. I eat too much. I feel deprived, and for good reason.

In conclusion, yes, artists are sensitive, but it's not their fault. Also, read The Artist's Way. That will help. *James Lipton nods soberly*