Thursday, March 23, 2006

Realities/Myths of the Moody Artist

* pic of Supa's mantra, hanging in her writing room

A member of my writing crew sent me this article; we're both women writers who struggle with the side-effects of a "creative personality" i.e. - an almost obsessive need for solitude, rampant moodiness, ultra-analytical & reflective natures, and other various frustrating personality traits which arise when our creative processes are hampered by the intrusion(s) of everyday life. This is something I've struggled with my entire life, and being an artist, and an empath, has truly made my journey even that much more challenging...At any rate, this article is quite interesting, I'd like to get your views & feedback of you other artists (particularly writers) out there....besides - ya'll already know I'm crazy. But not as crazy as our boy "Twisted Genius" from the Writing Crew.......Read on!

Creativity and Depression: Is There a Link?
by Amy Scholten, MPH

The mad genius, the tormented artist, the melancholy poet. History is filled with writers, poets, artists, musicians, composers, and other creative people who wrestled with mood disorders. A list of just some of them would include Dickinson, Poe, Emerson, Dickens, Faulkner, Hemingway, Melville, Tolstoy, O'Keefe, Gaugin, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. But is this portrayal just a stereotype, or is there really a link between creativity and depression?

Prevalence of Mood Disorders in Creative People
This question haunted Arnold M. Ludwig, a researcher at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. He embarked on a 10-year study of 1004 men and women who were prominent in a variety of professions, including art, music, science, business, politics, and sports. Ludwig found that between 59 and 77 percent of the artists, writers, and musicians suffered mental illness (particularly mood disorders) compared to just 18 to 29 percent in the less artistic professionals.

Most studies on this subject have consistently shown higher rates of mood disorders in creative people, differing only in the magnitude of the results. Are creative people destined to experience depression or bipolar disorder? Or does having a mental illness make people more creative? Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, addresses these questions in her book, Touched with Fire, and notes that most creative people do not suffer from recurring mood swings. In fact, the majority of people suffering from depression and bipolar disorder do not have extraordinary imaginations. "To assume that such diseases usually promote artistic talent wrongly reinforces simplistic notions of the 'mad genius," she writes.

Unraveling the Mystery
Why is it, then, that such a high percentage of creative people suffer from depression and bipolar disorder? Do these diseases enhance creativity in certain people or do characteristics of the creative mind render one more vulnerable to these diseases? The answers to these questions are uncertain, but a number of theories have been proposed.

Mania and the Creative Process
The manic phase of bipolar disorder is characterized by emotions and behaviors that parallel the creative process. These include:

Original thinking
Heightened sensitivity
Increased drive and productivity
Increased fluency, fluidity, and frequency of thoughts
Tendency to use rhymes, idiosyncratics, and alliteration
Sharp focus
Ability to function on limited sleep
Increased quality and quantity of word usage

In certain people with bipolar disorder, these manic characteristics will enhance creativity. In contrast, the depressive phase of bipolar disorder is characterized by introspection, rumination, and intense pain—something that can add depth and meaning to creative work. This may partially explain the profound creativity seen in many people with bipolar disorder.

The Social Challenges of Being Creative
One theory suggests that many creatively gifted individuals may suffer from depression as a result of being in environments that don't support their creativity. In her book, The Woman's Book of Creativity, C. Diane Ealy, PhD writes, "Many studies have shown us that a young girl's ideas are frequently discounted by her peers and teachers. In response, she stifles her creativity.” Other experts agree that suppressed and misunderstood creativity can lead to severe neurotic and psychotic behavior, addictions, unhealthy relationships, concealment of abilities, hopelessness, and depression.

Gifted and talented people are often divergent thinkers who have unusual, original, and creative perception and elaborate fantasies. They may disagree with authority, invest in their own interests, and express unpopular views. This can present social challenges, particularly for girls and women, as a result of a cultural expectation to conform. Gifted and talented people generally receive little acceptance for their unique selves, and may have poor self-esteem and difficulty trusting people. This situation can lead to feelings of isolation and frequent bouts of depression.

Gifted and talented adults are driven to express their inner creativity but may be hindered by self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of inferiority, says Mary Rocamora who heads a school in Los Angeles for gifted and talented adults. When this happens, frustration can turn into hopelessness and depression.

Finally, creative individuals, such as writers and artists, often spend long hours working in solitude. When faced with various stressors they may not have as much social support as those who work among other people. This may result in increased stress, feelings of isolation, and depression. For this reason, it's helpful for creative people to develop outside interests that involve socializing, especially if their work is solitary.

For entire article and other recources, click here.


jameil1922 said...

how bout b/c its stressful. for me its like there's a pull to use your creativity and leave your mark but there are restraints. and sometimes that shit just makes me want to explode. so i do.

P said...


Often times, we are told to not explore our creative sides, because that's not a profitable solution to long term career plans.

We are told to think on the other side of the brain (the left side), which is completely different from the right side.

I do think that personalities profies are real, and should be taken heed.

There are enormous talents that go unfounded, undiscovered, and unfertilized, because people don't recognize their thinking patterns and styles.

Single Ma said...

I'm not an artist or a writer, but so much of this article makes me think about myself (i.e. moodiness, analytical nature, and desire to be alone at times).

If there is a link to depression and creativity, I wouldn't be surprised. It seems like most historical artists are rebels and deep thinkers who use the problems of the world or a personal unmet need to develop their next masterpiece.

African girl, American world said...

okay this was going to be a post but now that you bring it up, lemme ask...

Why is it that creative peoples something have to use mood enhancers (read weed) to feel that they are creating at their best?

I'm just saying.......

I had this discussion with a brilliant spoken word artist friend of mine and he was on all kinds of things right b4 his show and of course he did an excellent job but after he was still 'gone' and I tried to ask him why he needed it and he blamed his creative side.

a lil off topic but ya know mw.

great article..go head Kentucky! LOL u want me to go track this Dr down tomorrwo and ask some extra ?s for ya? LOL!!!

Free said...

I think we're the way we are (call it crazy, moody, whatever) because we don't write to write, but are compelled to write (or whatever we do as an artist). I just accept that I am different & I know that only certain other people are going to understand me.

Thanks for the education on empaths. I'm going back to read up on it, but - wow - I saw myself in that. Damn, Supa, I always come away with something from you!

Supa said...

@ Mwabi: Interesting question, I've pondered the same myself. Although I've never felt more "creative" after having herbal refreshments..but I know pleeennnty of artists (musicians, esp.) who say that it takes their creativity to another level.

Guess one would have to keep asking creative folk who suscribe to the "need weed" mentality & see what replies one gets.

P said...


I can't believe you called them herbal refreshments.

Supa said...

@Free: Well said. Took me years to understand that some folks will never "understand" me.

And I always say - A writer can't NOT write. That's the sign of a true artist...

re: Empath traits - you too? sis, it's a blessing..and a curse..i'm still learning. hit me up on email, if you'd like.

So...Wise...Sista said...

My therapist and writing partner would tend to co-sign this article. ;) My best friend would attest to the need for weed.

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...

Supa, mad thanks for this article!!! Moreso for your intro -because I can definitely relate to your mantra.

I have a double whammy on me because I'm a writer w/the stereotypical personality to match PLUS I was an only child. So solitude, ultra-analytical, and reflective nature X2 since I had lots of time to indulge those traits as a kid.

Some days I'll be sitting in the car with my fam quiet as a church mouse b/c I'm thinking about an article or characters from my novel. Then I'll get mad if someone intrudes on my thoughts with conversation.

Glad I'm not alone!

Oh...but I can't relate as much to the article's reference to depression. I get where they're going but I'm out of the loop on that one.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting...I haven't yet had my morning coffee, so I'll be back when the brain is functioning.

Guess caffeine is my writing weed.

Miss Ahmad said...

i think is exactly why i don't date creative types...i can barely deal with my own moods and what nots, i'm surely not interested in a part time depressed man!


Anonymous said...

I'm back and have decided to co-sign Miss Ahmad.

Miss Ahmad said...

^^^ Cocoa you are making me laugh really hard right now, coffee in hand!

Me said...

Uh hello where are you today ? I keep refreshing your blog and aint shit new coming up ?? HELLO !

dpm said...

I don't want to be creative anymore. Instead. I'm just going to hate people, be by myself and stay up late.

Sangindiva said...

Being an artist I can relate on so many levels-
the poor self-esteem and difficulty trusting people,
neurotic and psychotic behavior, addictions, unhealthy relationships, concealment of abilities, hopelessness, depression, moody-ness AND Herbal Refreshment.
(Girl we are twins! I call it that too!!)
I am glad to see this article. I also am glad I ain't crazy!!