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What I've Learned So Far . . .

At first, I wanted to ask if people with mental illness were disproportionately more creative than their neurotypical counterparts. I went searching for the connections, and they are there. There is so much proof of the relationship between mental health and creativity. The relationship, however, is much more symbiotic than I knew. Now, I’m in a chicken versus egg situation. Does mental illness cause a greater capacity for creativity? Does throwing out creative restraints and inhibitions cause madness? Or, like several of my friends mentioned, is it something else entirely?

More than one person I spoke to said that creativity was due to a longing for community or a dissatisfaction for the community they were in. We see a prime example of this in Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was unhappy, depressed, repressed, and in an unequal partnership where she didn’t feel valued as a human being. After she removed herself from that situation and became involved in progressive causes, she blossomed. My friend Brent stated that creativity wasn’t caused by mental illness, but both had roots in longing for community.

Some mentioned using creativity as an outlet. Some pour themselves into their artwork as a sort of therapy when their brains get too busy or too sad or too “anything.” The highly creative Van Gogh had sporadic psychotic episodes. My friend, Amy, feels like her writing is best when she’s just short of complete despair, but tends to fight creative paralysis when that despair does come. Still, others can only create when things feel in order and they feel safe.

While the parallels that I may have drawn between mental health and creativity may have been flawed, there is a connection there. No artist I spoke with said, "Nope. No connection there." They all had something insightful to say on the subject. They all spoke about what their mental state meant to their work or in what state they best created or about common misconceptions and stereotypes we have adopted.

What I didn't hear was that mental health or mental illness has no part or or affect on creativity.

That's because it does. It affects us in ways that shows in our art. It's a game for a close friend of mine. She likes to look at my work and analyze it. She can read me like book. My use of colors or the lack of them tell her a lot. Symbolism that I choose to employ or what I leave out all mean something. My work comes from my brain, and its state matters.

Image by Amy Grantham


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