Not infrequently, at the Bipolar Burble I get comments about how if famous artists with mental illnesses had of been medicated, we would have no art today. For some odd reason their go-to example is always Vincent Van Gogh. Without his untreated mental illness, they argue, Van Gogh wouldn’t have been the great artist we know him to be today.
Right then. Let’s all go off our meds and paint. And chop off our ears.
Creativity and Mental Illness
There is no doubt that being crazy makes you see things in a new way. I know I can see things in ways that others can’t. It’s both a benefit and a dramatic hindrance. I’m constantly dealing with people looking at me in odd ways as they try to wrap their head around whatever-the-heck logic my thoughts are trying to make. It’s no mean feat.
But that’s not necessarily all the bipolar. That’s creativity. I was creative before I was crazy, before I was medicated. And I’m creative now, on psych medication.
Creativity and Hypomania
I have had hypomanic times where I have written and written and written and written. Thousands and thousands of words pour out of my skull. And they are brilliant.
Or at least, so I think at the time.
Hypomanic (and manic) people think they are brilliant. Think they are unbelievably talented and creative. Think they are genius. It doesn’t mean they actually are.
Creativity and Psychiatric Medication
Since being on psych meds I have written thousands of pages. Thousands. Some professionally, some not, but many fairly laudable and creative. Believe it or not folks, I do have talent and that talent hasn’t magically been removed because of the medication.
Of course, if I’m too depressed because of the bipolar to get off the couch, that has a rather adverse effect on producing anything, talented or not.*
Artists, Psychiatric Medication and Death
But so you don’t agree with me. You have personally found you’re brilliant off meds and not on. OK. Fine. And maybe you think you’d be willing to part with your ear to be Van Gogh. OK. Fine.
But you might want to keep in mind some truly brilliant people who killed themselves due to mental illness, including Van Gogh whose depression worsened over the course of his lifetime, making him unable to paint, leading to his suicide at the age of 37.
And then there are other famous artists dead from suicide:
- Sylvia Plath, suicide at 30
- Kurt Cobain, suicide at 27
- Ernest Hemingway, suicide at 62 (and just in case you’re doubting genetics, his father, brother and sister also committed suicide)
- Diane Arbus, suicide at 48 (both a drug overdose and slashed wrists)
- Arshile Gorky, suicide at 44
- Alexander McQueen, diagnosed anxiety and depressive disorders, suicide at 41
- Virginia Woolf, suicide at 59, part of her suicide note to her husband:
I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. . . I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. . . I can’t read.
And a whole bunch of other talented people both known and unknown who had their lives cut short by suicide.
And my guess is the loved ones of every single one of those people wish treatment had of been available for /used by their loved ones.
Psych Medication Destroys Creativity and Art
So don’t give me the bullshit argument that medications are “bad” because they hamper creativity. Because you know what really kills your creativity?
A Little Bit More
* There’s a study showing this but I seem to have misplaced it.
I’m not saying it’s never the case that medication inhibits creativity, just that it’s a poor argument and misses some of the fundamental reasons why people get treatment in the first please.
Creative people who have publically stated they are in treatment for a mental illness. Including Patty Duke, “She says that she’s more creative now because she can organize a thought.”