Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence-whether all that is profound-does not spring from disease of thought-from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. (Edgar Allan Poe, Qtd. in Jamison, 62) Throughout the years, many people have shared Edgar Allan Poes skepticism about a correlation between creativity and madness. Glancing back through history, evidence of mental turmoil relating to the artistic temperament can be dated as far back as the Ancient Greeks.
Plato said that creativity was a divine madnessa gift from the gods. (Qtd. In Neihart, 48aol1) Aristotle asked: Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry, or the arts are melancholic? (Aristotle, Qtd. In Gutin, 75aol2) Creativity can be defined in infinite ways. It may be expressed as abstract thinking or the production of something both honored and new. Creativity was emphasized by Greek philosophers as, a willingness to cross and re-cross the lines between rational and irrational thought.
Neihart, 73aol3) Creativity can be assessed as the ability to maintain bold and restless moods, experience a deep variety of emotions, and focus intensely on ideas. Madness may be defined as serf destructive deviant behavior. (Neihart, 47aol4) History may paint the idea that mental turmoil and creativity go hand in hand with its many examples of poets, artists, musicians, and novelists with eminence of major mood disorders. Lord Byron, the 19th century poet was thought to have a volatile temperament, which, frequently set of sparks of poetic imagination.
Byron was one among the many writers who were believed to have endured a major mood disorder. Other poets and novelists who wrote about their savage moods, include: William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrel, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Roethke, Henry James, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Delmore Schwartz, and Virginia Woolf. Many of these poets were confined to an asylum for depression or mania; others committed or attempted suicide.
Artists, who were thought to have painted the picture of insanity included: Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Kirchner, Ernest Josephson, Georgia OKeefe, Max Ernest, Jackson Pollock, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Gaugin, Edvard Munch, Michelangelo, and Mark Rothko. Composers Robert Schumann, Charles Mingus, Peter Warlock, Peter llich Tchaikovsky, and Sergy Rachmaninoff also suffered from probable mood disorders. (Jamison, 267-270) Manic-depressive illness, major depression, cyclothymia, and hypomania are among the many mood disorders that are thought to plague artists.
Manic-depression, or bipolar disorder, is a strongly genetic disease, which can be characterized by an intense depressive state and a hyperactive realm of euphoria. A manic-depressant experiencing a manic state tends to exhibit very irritable, driven, impulsive, overconfident, and often psychotic or destructive behavior. In a depressive cycle, they may have suicidal tendencies. Cyclothymia and hypomania are milder forms of manic-depression. Depression causes changes in thought patterns, sleep habits, and energy levels.
Major depression prompts concentrated melancholic spells. (Jamison, 63) Could such disruptive diseases convey certain creative advantages? speculates Kay Redfield Jamison, (Jamison, 62) author of Touched with Fire: manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament. Studies in fact indicate that mental illness corresponds with the artistic temperament, although it is also proven that many artists are not mentally ill, or most mentally ill people are not artistically inclined.
Lunatics have always been objects of art. (Porter 46aol6) Over the years we have kept a consistent stereotype that artists are all mentally ill, or all go insane at some stage of their lives. Hearing that a poet slit his wrist or died of an overdose is no surprise to us. However, is it simply our known reputations of artists that persuade us to believe that creativity and madness form a tangible connection? The notion that a link exists between creativity and madness may originate from the artists themselves.
One popular and shared belief among many in psychiatry is that painting, drawing, writing, composing, or any other artistic method all demonstrate a means of self-understanding and emotional stability. In exploring their creative inner world, artists may learn to better understand their own destructive inclinations. Manics and schizophrenics are said to create the most honest forms of art because the mad are more closely self oriented and in touch with their inner selves than are the sane.
Another shared belief is that artistic exertion heals the artist, whose work then provides a healing source to others. The idea that the suffering artist creates to compensate for his suffering is a wide spread conclusion pertaining to the idea that art is therapy. (Gutin, 77aol8) There are many examples of artists whose work has saved them from their selves. Poetry led me by the hand out of madness, wrote Anne Sexton, who was confined to an asylum. (Qtd. In Jamison, 122) Artist Jackson Pollock used his large canvas drippings as a way to sort out the insanity in his life.
Other explanations of the link between madness and creativity describe psychological unease. For example, the outsider status, construes that feeling isolated or not fitting in can lead one to means of expression through creativity. Bob Klitzman of Columbia University states, It doesnt necessarily have to be the madness, you may feel like an outsider because youre gay, or a woman, or African-American. Anything that gives you the sense that the world you see isnt the world that others see can motivate you to want to tell your own story.
Another idea that psychological unease pertains to creativity is characterized by the influence in the culture from which one is raised. Perhaps a painful childhood experience may elicit confusion or discomfort, providing a means to clear ones mind through an artistic outlet. Ludwig refers to this instability as a kind of restlessness, need to express oneself, emotionally healthy creative people have it, and attach it to a problem, when the problem is solved, it motivates them to seek out a new problem to work on.
The mentally ill have it too, but their unease is more pervasive and free-floating, they have more trouble putting their psychological lids back on. (Ludwig, Qtd. In Gutin, 78aol11) Many more modern investigators have taken part in researching the enigma of creativity and madness. Among the many include Nancy Andreasen, Kay Jamison, Arnold Ludwig, and Albert Rothenberg. Nancy Andreasen, from the University of Iowa, completed the first of her studies on mental illness and the arts in the 1970s.
Andreasen matched diagnostic criteria with strict control groups in her efforts to examine thirty creative writers. Results indicated eighty percent of the writers had evidence of major depression, manic-depression, or hypomania among them. Compared with 30% of the people in non-creative jobs with probable mood disorders. Evidence of mood disorders or alcoholism could also be seen in the writers past family history. (Jamison, 63) Kay Jamison, professor of psychiatry at the John Hopkins University school of Medicine, seems to be the Messiah of creativity and madness.
In her book, An Unquiet Mind, she writes about her personal struggles with bipolar illness and provides first hand accounts of mania and the artistic temperament. Touched With Fire, also written by Kay Jamison, includes just about every famous artist with prominence of mental illness. Her research illustrates that the cognitive processes associated with certain moods are the link between creativity and madness. (Neihart, 51aol12) Examples of these certain moods include rapidity, fluency, flexibility of thought, restlessness, irritability, and intensified perception.
Jamison suggests that depression enhances creativity. By allowing slowed thinking processes, depression may permit plenty of time for one to develop creative ideas and place feelings into broadened perspectives. Mania may also enhance creativity by increased productivity, expansive thought, and flamboyant moods. Kay Jamison began her research of creativity and mental illness with a study of mood disorders and suicide in a successive sample of poets born within a hundred-year period. Jamison examined autobiographical, biographical, and medical records for 47 19th century British and Irish writers and visual artists.
In her attempt to select the most creatively prominent artists, she selected painters and sculptors who were Associates of the Royal Academy, playwrights who had won Evening Standard drama awards, and poets represented in the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. Jamison found that 38 percent of these writers and artists had evidence of mood disorders. 75 percent of the poets were treated with medication or hospitalization. (Jamison, 61,62) Through her pretentious research, Jamison found such autobiographical findings and letters that increasingly linked artistic temperament to manic-depressive illness.
A passage from poet William Wordsworth emphasizes the link as well, By our own spirits are we defied; We poets in our youth begin in gladness; But therof come in the end despondency and madness. (Qtd. In Jamison, 52) French composer Hector Berlioz wrote about his mania: The fit fell upon me with appalling force. I suffered agonies and lay groaning on the ground, stretching out abandoned arms, convulsively tearing up handfuls of grass and wide-eyed innocent daisies, struggling against the crushing sense of absence, against a mortal isolation.
The apathy Edgar Allan Poe may have felt in his struggles with manic-depression can be summarized in this passage: I am so ill-so terribly, hopelessly ill in body and mind, that I can not liveuntil I subdue this fearful agitation, which if continued, will either destroy my life or, drive me hopelessly mad. (Edgar Allan Poe, Qtd. in Jamison, 37) Why is it that many other creative geniuses appear to have been emotionally stable? Some examples include Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Camille Pissaro, Fred Astaire, George Gershwin, Carl Jung, and Orville Wright.
Apparently this question must have sent Arnold M. Ludwig, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Kentucky Medical School, on his search for an answer about the controversy between creativity and madness. Ludwig, already aware of the list of artists who were emotionally disturbed, followed a somewhat more diverged path then did Jamison in her studies. In his curiosity as to why many other so-called creatively talented people werent mentally ill, Ludwig decided to conduct a more broadened study.
His ten year survey of a sample of 1,004 figures compared those with prominence in the arts, sciences, business, military, and social activism. Information was gathered on their childhood, careers, health, and any occurrences of depression, mania, alcoholism, anxiety, psychotic episodes, or suicide attempts. Some of the standards of Ludwigs achievement scale included: recognition of life and eminence after death, invocation of creativity, originality, anticipation, and total extent of artistic achievement.