Thursday, October 16, 2008

Creativity and a Correlation with Mental Illness? Doubtful!

   CNN’s reporter Elizabeth Landau recently wrote an article about the perceived correlation between creativity and mood disorders being discussed by some research psychologists. They are thinking and saying mental illnesses, especially “bipolar disorders and depression” are connected to highly creative people. If you are an artist you may object to being called an excessively ruminating or reflective, and, therefore, depressed--or that you have a predilection towards mental illness.

   Regardless of the research, I would like to convince you that the one variable, i.e., being creative may not be a good one to study. In fact, if it were removed from the research completely, and the individuals used in the study were reexamined, I would suspect that other more convincing common depression causing characteristics might be uncovered. Not being a psychologist myself, I can only assume that there are hundreds of accepted  correlating factors, such as abuse, neglect, poverty, physical illness, or childhood abandonment, to name a few. Why?

  1. Creativity Is Part of Our Inherited Human Makeup.

   Other mitigating factors aside, my first argument is that creativity is not expressed only in art or even artistic endeavors alone. I believe everyone is creative and is born with a storehouse of creativity as part of their inherited human makeup.

   Those who have expressed their creative side traditionally, i.e., those who really choose the artistic life are often observed with a scant tilt to the eye. Why?--because people often wonder why anyone would choose to live in poverty just to do what they love. In other words, many people know that they have artistic talents but not only find it impossible to financially support themselves with their art, but the idea to try to them is distasteful or stupid. So is the entire notion of reflection or rumination—to them computer games are more fun.

   Are these people as a group somehow mentally more sound than artists as a group? Are they happier? Are their untapped storehouses of creativity important to the rest of society? Do they care?

2. Do The Non-Artistic Hear An Adult From The Past?

   Second, many, many people who do not express themselves creatively are afraid of criticism or rejection and, therefore, may be exactly of the same ruminating ilk as those who do. But who would admit that to a psychologist and how would they be included in the study? Paul Verhaeghen, associate professor of psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology says, as reported in this CNN article,

"If you think about stuff in your life and you start thinking about it again, and again, and again, and you kind of spiral away in this continuous rumination about what's happening to you and to the world -- people who do that are at risk for depression,” …

   I believe that most people who have not expressed their creative treasure, hear an adult from their past. And as time goes on, and he or she reaches adulthood, they shy more and more away from attempting anything artistic. They are the ones who start thinking about what happened in the past and rethink it again, and again, and again, and…and kind of spiral away in [a] continuous rumination of fear and paralysis.

   How many people in a group believe themselves to be non artistic or uncreative and suffer from the same thought patterns? Ask those non-artistic people what they learned from someone else--that something was either correct or incorrect according to some accepted critical analysis—i.e, something that the average person does not fully understand or accept.

   I am always interested in opinions about art, but no matter how revered the source, the real issue is, that no one is God or a true authority on the value of anyone’s creative output. It’s a matter of trends, fads, education, prejudice, and a hundred other factors that become the norm of the moment. The truth is that all creative expressions are just as they should be because they are a reflection of the internal spirit in each of us.

   But when people are taught that something is excellent because it projects a specific technically correct artistic outcome, they suppose that it if they cannot replicate the same technique, they are not good at art. They hear that the sunlight is shining through at the wrong angle or the perspective and composition are unappealing. One friend told me that in first grade, her teacher looked over her shoulder when she was using crayons and said, “Color it solid.” My friend had no idea what solid meant when she was six years old. It terrified her. She never attempted to draw or paint and truly believed herself incapable.

   Think about those people who believe they are not creative or artistic. How do you analyze their depression over their sense of failure and inability to be happy with the fun side or artistic activities? What kind of analysis do they need, when forty years later they are still thinking about the D they were given in art because they didn’t crayon inside the lines, or couldn’t draw the cat that the teacher drew on a flip chart?

   Think of the so-called non artistic people whose parents took away the pictures they drew and redrew them to meet their own standards? How many kids in grade school were made fun of by their friend’s because of their color combinations? When you were a child were you stunned when someone said, “A redhead should never wear the color pink or red?

3. What Percentage of Adults Who Could Be Creative Are Limited by Endless Chores?

   Many people in our society are up to their noodles in responsibilities and work. They cannot even take a few moments a week to explore their God given desire to make something out of nothing. When I grew up I was surrounded by fathers and mothers who had nothing of the material advantages of this generation. And yet, I saw fathers who made Christmas trees out of twigs and tin foil or who built miniature tool cabinets from nothing but a picture in the mind. There were mothers who created double sided aprons for their children without patterns or created new dishes and recipes for local fairs with nothing more than a keen palate. These were people who were reflective and especially ruminating. But then, there weren’t thousands of technical gadgets and inclinations toward time consuming media. It was a time when people could use their imaginations. Times are different now, good or bad and ordinary ruminations may be a thing of past generations.

4. There Is More to Brilliant Creativity Than Painting a Picture, etc.

   Another point--creativity is a hugely under-acknowledged phenomena. Is the person who sits at the loom, following a pattern artistic? Most will say no. But if the person reframes the loom to be more effective or efficient, especially if it is done in a way that allows for experimentation, then that person is creative.

   This type of creativity is part and parcel to almost any job in this extraordinarily innovative country. We in the United States are, typically, not hell bent on ritual and static thinking. This country has thrived on thousands of different types of creativity, and especially, the kinds that demand a great deal of internal thought, analysis, and reflection—and especially rumination. Our history is one of originality, experimentation, advancement, and renewal. Are all of such people depressed or mentally ill? Some are but from a large population of them, more are probably not. And if they suffer a mental illness, such as a Howard Hughes, aren’t there other, as noted above, mitigating variables that make more sense?

   Many people in this country have not learned how to use or express their creative abilities. We are not a Bali, as noted in the article below, i.e., being artistic is not universal. Typically, people in this country do not treasure art or pay for it and its dismissal, can of course, be depressing for any starving artist. Those who have been financially successful may, as noted earlier, have many other mitigating factors that contribute to mental instability.

   It may be more interesting to research the mental stability of those who perceive their art as good and worthy and those who don’t and why. Or it might be more interesting to research the mental stability of a large group of depressed patients who say they are creative against an otherwise similar group of people who are also depressed and say they are not creative.

   I think the study should be reevaluated with the creation;>) of a creativity chart. Hundreds of people should be interviewed to discover their internal definition of creativity. Then they should be asked if they think they offer creative moments to others in their lives. Then they should be asked if they would equate their own sense of creativity to that of a painter, sculptor, musician, etc. You might be surprised with the totality of creativity and artistic endeavors of most of the population…and yes, I would include a mother’s attempt at inexpensive Halloween costumes.

   P.S. Most the artists I know could clean the healthy attitude clock of those who think them a little off!


10/15/2008 © Laura Joyce Moriarty

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