Like many people interested in the subject, Lamb wrote from personal experience: his sister and literary collaborator, Mary, stabbed their mother to death during a manic episode, and Charles himself spent time in a madhouse. But Lamb was out of step with his time. More recently, works such as R. In retrospect, this conclusion seems like the triumph of politics over rationality; contemporary schizophrenia researchers are more impressed by the destructiveness of the disease than its creative fecundity.
Why should the idea of a link between art and madness have such a hold on the popular imagination?
Some clinicians attribute it to a rather unpleasant human trait: extraordinary accomplishments, they say, make the rest of us nervous. We have only two ways to react to creative people in this culture, says Harvard psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg. We do this with athletes as well as artists, adds Johnson. No need to make the effort to create a poem or anything else; art is the province of the mad. But there may be a simpler reason that the question seems to intrigue each generation anew: the data that might resolve it are so hard to obtain.
If researchers look to the great artists of the past for answers, a standoff is inevitable. Both sides have their lists. Does a cheerful Jane Austen trump a melancholy Virginia Woolf?
Does the businesslike, bourgeois Anthony Trollope outrank the hard-drinking, depressive Ernest Hemingway? Was Mark Rothko, who cut open the arteries of his arms, somehow a more real artist than Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who died peacefully in bed? Some researchers have elected to approach people who have been socially defined as creative- -recipients of prizes, for instance--and tried to assess their mental health. But these artists may not be representative of the art world as a whole: many avant-garde writers and painters never make it into the canon.
And this strategy may not achieve an accurate sample of even these mainstream geniuses. Subjects may refuse to participate because of the stigma of mental illness. Nevertheless, the two studies that effectively launched the revival of interest in the question opted for this approach.
In , while doing a residency in psychiatry at the University of Iowa, Nancy Andreasen began looking to test the then current idea of a link between schizophrenia and creativity. Andreasen, a Ph.
10 Must-Read Memoirs From People With Bipolar Disorder
She found that 80 percent of the participating writers revealed they had suffered either depression or manic depression, compared with 30 percent of the control subjects. Two of the writers eventually took their own lives. The bipolar connection, she recalls, just leaped out at me. Rothenberg objects to her control group, which he says was not really comparable with the group of creative people, and points out that Andreasen herself did the interviews and made the diagnoses, with none of the customary cross-checking to ensure objectivity. Rothenberg himself has spent 30 years interviewing eminent creative people--Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners among them--and is convinced that creativity is facilitated by mental health, not illness.
Andreasen, however, is as firm in her beliefs as Rothenberg is in his. The link between bipolar illness and creativity is genuine and extremely robust, she maintains. While on a sabbatical at Oxford, Jamison had approached a large group of eminent Britons and asked them to complete exhaustive questionnaires about mood swings and creativity. What she found was psychic distress in spades. In the general population, rates of bipolar illness hover at about 1 percent, and major depression affects between 5 and 15 percent of the population.
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Clearly, intense emotional pain went hand in hand with creativity for even the most successful of these artists. Jamison admits that the number of artists in each category was small--eight novelists, for instance, and eight playwrights--but still thinks the results are telling.
Of course our studies have methodological problems, she says. But they all point to the same association. So you have to ask yourself: Is there a trend?
Is the trend in the same direction? And if the answer is yes, then you at least have to entertain the possibility that the studies are right. The largest study done to date does seem to confirm the association found by Andreasen and Jamison. For a decade Ludwig and his research associates have been sifting through upwards of 2, biographies of 1, eminent men and women in an effort to learn what factors combine to produce the kind of high-order creativity that makes historians sit up and take notice.
Bipolar (Manic Depression) | NAMI Syracuse
By using secondary sources, Ludwig avoids some of the sampling problems for which Jamison and Andreasen were criticized. And he has an answer to the objection that biographies have biases of their own. On the whole, I think biographers--who spend years getting to know their subjects- -will have a better perspective than a clinician asking standardized questions or administering a questionnaire, which has built-in theoretical or diagnostic assumptions, he says. Ludwig found that, as a group, creative artists displayed much higher levels of mental illness than did their creative counterparts in more structured occupations.
That Fine Madness
As adolescents, between 29 and 34 percent of eminent-artists-to-be exhibited psychiatric symptoms--ranging from hypochondria and moody and introspective fits all the way to psychotic hallucinations and suicide attempts--compared with 3 to 9 percent of future achievers in the sciences, sports, and business. The precise percentage depends on the strictness of diagnostic criteria. The differences among adults are equally striking, with rates of between 70 and 77 percent for poets, musical performers, and fiction writers; 59 to 68 percent for painters, composers, and nonfiction writers; and only 18 to 29 percent for eminent natural scientists, politicians, architects, and businesspeople.
Check out the book on Amazon. All links to Amazon. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine.
He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here. Madness: A Bipolar Life. Psych Central. All rights reserved. Find help or get online counseling now. Grohol, Psy. Another review of this book: Bipolar disorder and literary genius are often linked, the disorder considered a brilliant madness that produces great writers.
She herself is an ultra high achieving person living with bipolar. Here now is Marya Hornbacher to push the image further with her memoir, Madness. Well, not too much. This is a person who has had some very grandiose moments during her manic episodes, and enjoys sharing them in Madness. But, she has led a truly grand life.
The Real-life Emotional Rollercoaster
Her first memoir, Wasted , a detailed very detailed account of her struggle with an eating disorder, made her rich and adored by millions. Sometimes I am so full of music, and so overflowing with melody, that I find it simply impossible to write down anything. Schumann's father wanted him to be a lawyer, but he hated law school and finally got permission to study piano. In Leipzig, he studied with Friedrich Wieck, father of the brilliant young pianist Clara Wieck, who became the great love of his life.
Papa Wieck, unalterably opposed to the match, resorted to legal machinations to prevent their marrying. When Clara tried to do so without his consent, he filed a malicious document with the court, accusing Schumann of everything from "social ineptitude" and drunkenness to bad handwriting. The court ruled in favor of the young lovers, and a day before Clara's 21st birthday, they were married.
He wrote more than songs, among other works, in what must have been one of the most productive, joyous years in the career of any artist. Yet manic-depressive mood swings had become a part of his life. In his critical writings, Schumann created alter egos to represent the duality of his personality: Florestan was his passionate, energetic aspect; Eusebius expressed his melancholy, introspective side. It is hardly a stretch to postulate that Florestan and Eusebius denoted the manic and depressive poles of his temperament.
The illness progressed inexorably. Four years after his marriage, Schumann visited St. Petersburg, where a friend wrote: "Schumann was, as usual, silent and withdrawn the whole evening. He spoke very little and just murmured incomprehensibly. Schumann sat mostly in a corner near the piano. Yet when he was on a manic high, Schumann's creativity was nearly supernatural.
In , he composed his B-flat Symphony "Spring" in 14 days: 4 to sketch it out and 10 to orchestrate it. By the end, he was experiencing vivid auditory hallucinations, hearing whole concerts of heavenly music in his head. A young violinist who was a close friend of the Schumanns kept a detailed record of the composer's decline, filled with entries like this: "February I visited him at noon, and Frau Schumann asked me to go walking with him.
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During the hour I spent with him, he spoke quite rationally, except when he told me that the spirit of Franz Schubert had sent him a wonderful melody. Two days later, alternately sung to by angels and tormented by devils, Schumann tried to kill himself, jumping into the icy waters of the Rhine. He was rescued, only to be confined, completely insane, in an asylum, where he died two years later. Jamison suggests that he starved himself to death.