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The Jury Is In. Creative Consensus Part V: Dr. Shawn Pitts

(Where do creatives weigh in? I wanted to find out, and gave some contemporaries the following question: "Mental health and creativity. How does one affect the other?" Shawn gives me his thoughts.)

Shawn screams creativity. He lives it, writes it, creates it, plays it, documents it, and promotes it. As a founding member and integral part of Arts in McNairy based in Selmer, Tennessee, Shawn fuels the fire of local artists and creators in the community he calls his own.

When tasked with this head-scratcher, Shawn had a lot to say. I was grateful.

Shawn writes, "There is this 'tortured artist' narrative out there which leads some to conclude that creative genius always teeters on the brink of mental illness, but I happen to think that is a rarity." He argues that for every Van Gogh, there are "a million centered, healthy, creative minds sharing their work with humanity." He doesn't like the stereotype. I can't blame him. As an artist, I think I'm pretty well-adjusted.

Shawn clarifies, leaving some room for connections, "The mentally ill may find great outlets for self expression in the arts which contribute to wellness, but it's not a precondition for a 'creative mind' as some seem to think." He doesn't deny the connections between art and mental health, but thinks that most creatives are drawn to it as "a means of catharsis and self expression where other means of communication prove unsatisfying or unproductive."

Another connection between humans' sometimes fragile brains and creativity surfaced. We continued to discuss the subject, and bonded over our fathers' shared diagnosis- aphasia. I recalled Daddy's words becoming a jumbled mess after a massive brain hemorrhage. Shawn had similar recollections. What was fascinating was how their brains continued to work, musically. Shawn recalls, "He could sing and recall lyrics to favorite songs long after his ability to speak left him entirely." He spoke of this being one of the few "bright spots" left post-diagnosis. My Daddy continued to sing and hum and whistle tunes after his ability to string together sentences left him as well. I find it comforting that sparks still sprang from their creative centers even in that state.

Shawn imparted these words at the end of our conversation, "The love of music and visual art and words, etc., etc., are so fundamental to who we are as human beings that the echoes of it are there even as we fade." Shawn is an absolute master craftsman when it comes to the building of a sentence, and none of my words will add to his closing sentiments on this subject.

Coming Soon! (Maybe): Shawn has some interesting ideas about the intersection of creativity and spirituality, and I'd love to explore those crossroads with him soon. Thanks again, Dr. Pitts. I'm proud to call you a friend.

Check out what Shawn and the rest of the Arts in McNairy crew are up to here:

Shawn's Blog:

Shawn's guest appearance on Reelfoot Forward:

A few of Shawn's published pieces:

Photo from Arts in McNairy


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