The correlation between mental illness and creativity

Adam Flowers, Staff Reporter

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Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “There is no great genius without a touch of madness.” By this, he meant that new ideas and theories can be derived just by insanity. Of course, there are many geniuses in our world history, such as Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein, although there seemingly is a group of people, those who pursue careers in the performing or visual arts, such as artists, musicians, writers and even comedians, that suffer much more severely from mental illnesses than those who don’t pursue careers within that field.

  For example, artist Vincent van Gogh, was found to have manic depression. A large indicator of this is that he consumed yellow paint because he thought it would make him happy. An article on NCBI claims that he also drank absinthe, a liqueur that contains thujone. They continue to say that a person must drink 182 liters of the substance for them to see every object with a yellow hue. Some say that he painted “The Starry Night” because of this.

  Suffering from chronic illnesses and his addiction, Van Gogh commit suicide in 1890. In one of this last letters, he wrote: “If I could have worked without this accursed disease, what things I might have done.”

  Writer Virginia Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder. According to Scielo, Woolf experienced childhood trauma. She was sexually abused by her siblings for nine years. Because of this trauma, she first attempted suicide at age 22. After numerous attempts, she was later hospitalized. At age 59, she committed suicide by filling her overcoat with heavy stones and jumping into the River Ouse in Yorkshire, England.

  Not only was it just Van Gogh and Woolf, but even Robert Schumann, Sylvia Plath and many others were mentally ill.

  We can even see mental illness in modern celebrities, such as comedian Robin Williams, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, or 90s frontman of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, who also had depression.

  Of course, mental illness can plague any normal creative amongst our society. My friends and I can personally vouch for this ourselves. Most of my friends, who are either musicians, writers and artists, have suffered from clinical depression or anxiety, including myself.

  Now there are people who would consider that creating these forms of art, whether it be through performing or visually, are meant as a sense of venting, or create meaning through art. Artists would believe that creation is almost therapeutic. Although, this kind of “therapy” can work to a certain extent.

  An Insider article claims that mental health problems can become intertwined with a person’s own identity. One may think that if they are no longer a tortured soul, will they be creative anymore? Famous painter Edvard Munch once wrote in his diary: “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable to me, and their destruction would destroy my art.” The article goes on to say that a study from the Office of National Statistics in England, from the years 2011 to 2015, claimed that people that work in art-related jobs are four times more likely to commit suicide. In another study in 2013, they found that authors and writers can be associated with the increased likelihood of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and suicide.

  There is no proof that there is a direct correlation between mental illness and creativity, but it has been speculated and asked by many. At the end of the day, being creative in all capacities can, indeed, be a way for our therapy and with that, we can somehow liberate ourselves from our illnesses and further improve our mental health.

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