I read Yellow Raft in Blue Water for my Indigenous literature class (for the millionth time: I’m obsessed with Native American literature) and fell in love with the book—only to learn via the prof that the author Michael Dorris had committed suicide later in his life.
Then I read Bone Games which I grew very, very fond of—only to learn in class that the author Louis Owens had also committed suicide. Learning consecutively of these two deaths disturbed me greatly. It got me thinking about writers in connection to these darker aspects of life—depression, drugs, alcohol, suicide. Even in movies about artists, many depict them as being somewhat psychologically unbalanced–madness subsumes creativity.
To name a few other writers who committed suicide…
José María Arguedas
James Robert Baker
R. H. Barlow
Steven “Jesse” Bernstein
H. S. Bhabra
Samuel Laman Blanchard
Menno ter Braak
Henry Joseph Steele Bradfield
Frederick Hazlitt Brennan
Camilo Castelo Branco
Samson Cerfberr of Medelsheim
Ana Cristina César
Charles Caleb Colton
Courtney Ryley Cooper
Cláudio Manuel da Costa
James Ashmore Creelman
Aldo De Benedetti
Roy Andries De Groot
Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey
Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
K. Sello Duiker
Alexander Alexandrovich Fadeyev
John Gould Fletcher
Helen Palmer Geisel
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
William Lindsay Gresham
Juan Carlos Gumucio
St. John Emile Cavering Hankin
Carolyn Gold Heilbrun
James Leo Herlihy
Jane Aiken Hodge
Robert E. Howard
Charles R. Jackson
Morris K. Jessup
Orrick Glenday Johns
B. S. Johnson
Anthony Paul Kelly
Heinrich von Kleist
Jean Joseph Rabearivelo
Cale Young Rice
Mário de Sá-Carneiro
Thomas Parker Sanborn
John Monk Saunders
Seneca the Younger
John Augustus Stone
Hunter S. Thompson
James Tiptree, Jr.
John Kennedy Toole
David Foster Wallace
Edward Lucas White
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Francis Parker Yockey
A. P. Younger
In an article called “Exploring Artistic Creativity And Its Link to Madness” by Kate Stone Lombardi I came across some interesting facts:
- Research has revealed disproportionately high rates of mood disorders — particularly manic depression, or bipolar disorder, and chronic depression — among creative people. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, concluded in her study ”Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” that among distinguished artists the rate of such depressive illnesses is 10 to 30 times as prevalent as the population at large.
- Dr. Felix Post, a British psychiatrist, studied more than 100 writers, but concluded — to his surprise — that prose writers were prone to even more depressive bouts than poets though both were inclined to instability.
- Artists appear to be mentally disturbed because both madness and creativity are rooted in the unconscious, Dr. Barten said. She added that the secret and threatening emotions of the inner life — aggression, sexual fantasy and other unwanted impulses — are repressed in everyday life but expressed by the artist in raw form, devoid of defenses and in a sense, therefore, in a ”mad” form.
There’s those facts and theories.
And then there’s this interesting take on creativity:
A brief overview of some of the questions she raises and answers:
- What is it specifically about creative ventures that seems to make us worried about the writer’s mental health?
- We have come to internalize collectively the idea that creativity and suffering are inherently linked. Are we cool with this idea? Are we comfortable with this assumption?
- It is dangerous to start leaking down this dark path of assumptions. Writers need to learn how to create a protective, psychological construct between the author as he/she is writing and his/her very natural anxiety of what the reaction to the final product will be.
- How do we tap into our inspiration without letting the inherent emotiona risks harm us?
On a lighter note (!!!), here’s the trailer for a book written by the awesome M.M. Bennetts!
26 thoughts on “The Danger of Being Creative?”
I went to mental counseling for a year before I quit because the counselor was a douchebag.
But yeah, I have a feeling that writers have more intense feelings than the average person.
I wonder just how intense?
And I think writing becomes the way writers cope with their “intense” emtoions. It allows us the channel them in a healthy manner
I get depressed very often. And I become maniacally happy even more often. But, I hope I never get suicidal.
I’m sharing this on my blog.
I get mood swings real often. Will be happy one moment then brooding the next. While this is not a great thing, it helps with my writing, because I’m able to adjust my mood to what the character feels more easily
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Oh my, that’s really disturbing to think about.
Agreed. Very, very disturbing.
Holy Snap…that’s some list…
and those are just the well-known authors. I’m sure there are many lesser known deaths to add onto this tragically ginormous list
My husband called me bipolar last night. He was kidding. Kinda. But creativity means letting yourself experience emotion to its full intensity, I think–undampened and unhindered. And, well, let’s be honest–the writing life is a frustrating and trying one sometimes, even with success. I just hope and pray that anyone at that deep of a low seeks help.
“experience emotion to its full intensity” I hear ya. I bet you also cried over your keyboard as you were typing away at your story as I did once
wow, this was intense. But it is also one of writer’s “go-to” ‘s for preventing them from any creative endeavor. We don’t want to write because we think “oh no we might go crazy” or “become an artist who commits suicide” but I think this most likely will not happen.
Why? Think about it. Who did they define as people who were “writers”? People who have been published? Well that isn’t many. There are tons of writers who probably were’nt famous and published, who tracked to see how they did? How about all those people who are writers or who deny it? There are plenty of them out there as I keep up with my blog, they come to me and say they don’t tell anyone else they are a writer.
Writers are notorious for being hidden, just like an illegal immigrants, you really can never count them all. The estimates are probably half of what is actually out there, which would mean that those statistics would be pretty off, if I am guessing.
Then there is the idea of celebrity, which magnifies societies problems into one group. So that we see a celebrity like michael jackson and we assume that oh “it’s because of his celebrity” when there are millions of people who overdoes on drugs every day, and yet they do not get attention.
There are non-writers who suffer from depression, non-writers who commit suicide, non writers who are loners etc, but they don’t get attention because they don’t become well known, their thoughts are not shared with the masses.
I’m not saying this is not an issue to be concerned about, I’m saying that its an issue about humanity not artists. Why are not teaching people who to be more hopeful, how to be more positive, why do reward sensationalism and small events blown out of proportion, and not reasonable, objective, pragmatic ways of dealing with things.
I think its a problem, but its part of a big picture that involves a lot of people. And I’m done. Off my soap box. 😉
I had similar thoughts to your own. I think the whole idea of mad, genius artists is something that intrigues the average person. I mean, beside Miss Potter, it’s rare to come across a movie about a psychologically balanced author free from depression and suicidal thoughts. And I’m sure there are many, many such authors who aren’t suicidal. But like you said, the focus is on celebrity-like writers. The pressure to create something great itself might be a big factor as to why the authors are suicidal. Also, those who do committ suicide, it’s not always their art that drives them mad/their creativity, but issues that arise from their life. Family problems. External conflicts.
With that said, as a writer myself, I do agree with the idea that creativity in a sense can be harmful if there is no balance. There’s an obsessive quality tied to the creation of art and also that desire to please the public can also be a major stress factor. Writing–well, the phrase “Write your heart out” pretty much sums for me why writers can be so vulnerable to depression. It’s all such an emotional process that a writer must daily engage with.
All right, all right. I enjoy playing devil’s advocate, is all. 🙂
Haha you weren’t playing the Devil’s Advocate! well, not really. You were raising some great points. Broader issues to a more specific point. Especially the bit about sensationalism. Very insightful as always 🙂
I have to say that I’m shocked at the number of authors on the list. I kept scrolling…and scrolling…Wow. I knew that there were several, but seeing the list is sobering.
It is indeed very long. And these are just the well known authors. It got me thinking how much longer the list would be if the average writer was included. Or whether this has something to do with sensationalism, as Ollin pointed out.
This is such an interesting topic. Yes I think there is a danger to being creative in the way we percieved danger. But it was “dangerous” for God to create humanity, wasn’t it?
I just finished an essay about Jung and his beliefs regarding the Shadow (which is the “dark side” of the self). Each person has repressed qualities that they have to overcome in the end – assimilate into their understanding of themselves. So they can’t just ignore the Shadow or allow it to consume themself in return.
So relating to creativity… I think creativity allows us to face the Shadow heads-on in ways that non-creativity can’t. Because creativity often calls for the unconventional/the taboo/etc. the writer is also called to branch out towards those areas.
In the end it probably all comes down to balance… true art isn’t just suffering; it also contains joy and redemption. It contains depth in the way that a good painting contains both highlights and shadows. A lot of the great works out there – Shakespeare, Beethoven, and so forth – appeal to us because many facets of being human (a spectrum of emotions) all at the same time, leaving us with “Wow, that was EPIC.”
On another note, if you want to listen to something absolutely heart-wrenching/emotional… Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. It’s just SO LUSH AND GORGEOUS!
“But it was “dangerous” for God to create humanity, wasn’t it?”
Oh, that was a niceeee line!
I totally agree with you that creaitivity might come hand in hand with suffering, it is also accompanied by joy and redemption. For me, the focus in my writing is often on human suffering and redemption, so that always gives me perspective. Even in the darkest of times I am reminded that there is light. So writing, in that sense, is my therapy.
Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. LOVE LOVE LOVEDDD this piece! Thank you!!!!
A friend recently showed me that talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. I thought that it was a fantastic take.
Yes! She’s wonderful….even though I’ve never read her book
That list was scary. Blimey. I sometimes wonder if a writer is without many defenses. That’s my theory. I find that my energy is so diffuse that I sometimes have trouble working out where I end and others begin. I feel other people’s pain too keenly. I can’t watch the news for that reason. Our ability to be open is a gift and a curse. We can empathize with everyone, we can imagine ourselves in anyone’s shoes but at the same time we can get overwhelmed with external emotion.
Or is that just me…? 🙂
I TOTALLY understand what you mean. I was actually going to bring this point up.
For me, and maybe for you too, a lot of the creativity is inspired through our sensitivity. We have more to tap into because we feel more. And, like you said, while this can be a gift, it is also a curse. It’s not always healthy to feel TOO much. And yet, personally, this is needed to write the way I do since I tend to focus half my story on the emotions of characters.
Great point, madam 🙂
And from memory, I think you’re Pisces, right? We’re definitely sensitive folk.
“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
That’s such a beautiful quote!