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Are we Creative or slowly descending into Madness?

“Creativity is not afraid to be different. It takes madness to jump at an idea that no one else believes in.” | Barbara Januszkiewica


“To poets, insanity seems closer to divinity than death.” | Anais Nin


“The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and saner than the average person.” | Frank Barron


“Visionaries and dreams have always been dusted with a little oddity.” | Trevor Baylis


 The link between Creativity and Madness has dangled before us for centuries.


Are we simply Beings having a Creative experience, or are we Creative Beings meshing with the Madness that lurks behind our eyes?


HighExistence’s article on “Carl Jung and the Artistic Impulse: Madness in the Creative Spirit” questions the nature of creative humans. 

Some of these questions include:

What is the driving force that motivates us to create art?

What if there is something psychological at work? Something subconscious? Something that lies beneath the surface of our beings before suddenly revealing itself in an outburst of creativity?


Questions such as these force us to ponder the existence of creativity, a talent that can be shaped into anything we truly desire – but is this a blessing or a curse?


The article further states that:

“… art is intrinsically bound with insanity, great works of art functioning as a cathartic mechanism – which both purges and purifies the spirit – without which the artist would be confined to the asylum. 

The fascination of the link between mental illness and creativity emerged in the late 19th century and remains with us to this day, where heightened creativity can be seen to correlate with states of mind such as hypomania – a state of mind today most commonly associated with bipolar disorder – where inspiration emerges from the fluctuations between euphoria and depression.”


And yet, even if we decide to delve deeper into this – we wouldn’t have to look very far into the lives of famous artists, writers, poets, and musicians to find endless anecdotal narratives of their experiences with mental illness and its effect on the creative process. 


In his biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson writes that “had [Da Vinci] been a student at the outset of the 21st century, he may have been put on a pharmaceutical regimen to alleviate his mood swings and attention deficit disorder.”


Moreover, another description of Vincent van Gogh is that he was a “mad artistic genius.” 

And what about the countless writers who found the only solace to their madness lay at the bottom of a glass bottle? 


Lord Byron once said, “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”


Virginia Wolf, regarding her madness as inspiration, said, “As an experience, madness is terrific, I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava, I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does.”


Now, let’s look at what a Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, has to say on the topic:

“… across different methodologies and all kinds of populations, the research is remarkably consistent – there is a very much increased rate of mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, but also depression, in highly imaginative artists and writers.” After that, she claims that mental illness is 10 to 30 times higher among creative individuals than the average population. 

As a writer, I’ll admit to experiencing the link between Creativity and Madness firsthand. I’m prone to Depression; it is something that I have lived with for many years, having been clinically diagnosed at 17 – which, ironically, is when I came into my persona as a Writer. Even now, when I’m having a ‘down’ moment, where I am unable to eat or sleep, I find that the saving grace, that the solace to this infliction of sorts, is located within my writing – the very cause of the infliction itself. Despite being unable to carry out the standard ‘human’ actions of eating and sleeping, I find that being in this ‘down’ moment sparks enough creativity and inspiration to write several short stories or outlines for longer pieces. 


Is it great? Or healthy? Probably not. 

Does it work? Yes, yes, it does. 


Furthermore, let’s look at what renowned Psychologist Carl Jung says. In an essay collection, The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature, Jung perceives art, science, and religion as “the undifferentiated chaos of the magical mentality.” 


What does this mean? 


Carl Jung stated that art itself seemed to have no inherent meaning. Reiterating that, by itself, art was meaningless – however, where the art was looked at with the artist in mind, there lay purpose. For Jung, there was a sense that while art existed, a person would not decode the art itself, but rather, the art would be used to decode the artist. 


To simplify, for Jung, art could not stand alone. There was always more to the picture, more to the text – he believed that the final product was a key, ready to unlock secrets about the artist or writer and their subconscious or psychological conditions. 


Furthermore, Jung found the creative process to be distinct and something that “works of art could be seen to arise out of much the same psychological conditions as a neurosis.” He further states that “true art is something ‘supra-personal,’ a force which has escaped from the limitations of the personal and has soared beyond the personal concerns of its creator.”

Moreover, he dives even deeper observing that “the biographies of great artists make it abundantly clear that the creative urge is often so imperious that it battens onto their humanity and yokes everything to the service of the work, even at the cost of ordinary health and human happiness.” Jung also looked into symbols – regarding them as one’s expressions of the unknown – something far more profound than a person’s comprehension and unconscious understanding. 


In theory, the idea of creativity and madness is a great study. In reality, the concept of creativity and madness appears to be a long and painful experience. There are thousands of great Artists, Writers, Poets, Musicians, and so on before us who lived with the voices in their heads – the madness that took over their talent and creativity, molding them into the renowned people that we all know, love, and admire. 


But in the 21st century, is this acceptable? Are we damaging our Mental Health in the pursuit of Creativity while we continue to make names for ourselves in The Arts? Even if we can see the damaging effects, are we too late? Does the madness already lie deep within our veins long before we recognize our talents? 

I think so. I believe that the link between Creativity and Madness is timeless – that one decodes the other, that madness gives life to creativity. But I also think that at present, we are equipped with Self-Awareness and Self-Care, teaching and guiding us on how to use these inherent talents in a way that keeps the madness at bay. If anything, we can learn from the Artists before us, learn from their mistakes as they let the darkness take over. 

What do you think? If this link exists, is there a way we can overcome the Madness?


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