Wednesday, July 27, 2011



                                                                                                    CLAUDE MONET


Van Gogh's work has always been regarded within the framework of his mental incapacity.  Up to date, he has been (retroactively) diagnosed with: schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, and, the latest most popular diagnosis, bi-polar.


The philosopher, Heidegger, posits that art exists only within the recognition of the social or institutional construction of the boundaries of art worlds. Indeed, in the professional art world, it seems that the value placed on art differs, or is at least somewhat dependent on whether the artist is mentally ill or not. Being generally ignorant of what "good" art is, the public depend on art dealers' opinions to tell them what art piece is a valuable investment. Therefore, a case can be made that the value of art cannot stand on its own.

Flaws: The Case Against the Link

According to one researcher, creativity has been simply defined as something valued and new; and madness (or mental illness) as self-destructive behavior that is deviant. Considering the previous discussion on issues defining creativity and mental illness, these definitions hardly suffice as a solid or comprehensive foundation on which to build a discussion of the link between mental illness and creativity.

Another expert on studies of creativity has asserted that there is a definite link between mental illness and creativity. He stated that there are three common characteristics shared by people with high creative production and mental illness: (1) mood disturbances, (2) tolerance for irrational, and (3) vague thinking. However, some researchers refute this assumption. While several studies appear to support the mental illness/creativity link, the findings of these studies also appear to contradict each other.

One study on mental illness and women poets shows a direct link between creativity in writers and mental disorders. This study attempts to show that female poets are plagued far more than male poets with mental illness, especially bipolar illness. The researchers admit that their study is speculative, however, and contradicts other researchers’ findings in similar studies. Although tantalizing connections between mental illness and female poets has been made, there are also some limitations of these findings. Hampered by criticisms of many flaws in the design of the studies, such as response bias, "Hawthorne" and subject effects, acquiescence, self-selection, focus on celebrity biographical sources, and diagnoses from non-professional sources.

Creativity is not limited to the flamboyant, the famous, and the popular, although these types of individuals are whom we most often hear about in the media and in books. After all, the public is not likely to want to read about a creative person who is average and leads a quiet, healthy life. Therefore, researchers appear to study these famous types most often. However, these factors limit the validity of research as both being biased in the selection/participation process and raising questions about the motivations of participants in these studies.  For example, as a voluntary process, researchers cannot be sure neither of volunteers' diagnoses nor whether they are motivated because they want to be counted among the "creative and famous" (participant bias).

One researcher used case studies of famous artists and writers to demonstrate that mental illness not only is not a prerequisite for creativity, but also suppresses it in its active state. For example, describing the artistic processes of Edvard Munch, a leader of the Expressionist movement in Europe, and Jackson Pollack, a leader in the Abstract Expressionist movement in America, he asserts that the temporary abatement of these two artists' bipolar symptoms helped the artists produce some of their finest works during those periods of abatement. Pollack, himself, admitted that the psychotherapy he received while institutionalized helped him to create art that established his unique style of painting. After considering this foregoing information, there exists a logical temptation to conclude that creativity is a product of health and that mental illness neither causes nor enhances the creative process. However, other researchers say that artists generally create less during the calm periods in their life.


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