New Shoes Here I Come The link between depression and creativity is debated in many arenas. I do wonder how many Artists and those who operate mostly from the right side of the brain struggle with this and to what level. I truly believe that depression is more common than we think. Artists feel deeply and that is what makes their art so profound and moving. I’ve posted an article about the link between depression and creativity written by Shelley Carson.
Depression, Creativity, and a New Pair of Shoes
By Shelley H. Carson, Ph.D. on July 30, 2008 – 2:05pm in Life as Art.
“Well, I guess now all I have to do is get depressed and my work will improve.”
Since the time of Aristotle, creativity and the arts has been linked to melancholia…but depression itself doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity. Quite the opposite: most poets, artists, and composers have reported over the years that they are decidedly unable to work during episodes of severe depression. In fact, many have found their inability to create while depressed to be an impetus for ending it all. Virginia Woolf, for example, unable to write during the onset of a depressive episode, filled her pockets with stones and submerged herself in the River Ouse.
So if depression inhibits creativity, why the long-standing recognition of a connection between the two?
Here are four suggested theories: First, some artists and writers admit to engaging in their craft as a kind of auto-therapy for depression (a more healthy coping mechanism than booze but lots of artists and writers use that, too!). So depression (or the effort to avoid depression) may provide an incentive to do creative work that wards off melancholia.
A second theory is that the experience of depression may provide subject matter for artistic creations: Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream and Emily Dickinson’s “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” are just a couple of examples. A third theory, one held by many Romantic-era luminaries, is that one cannot truly comprehend the human condition (or convey it meaningfully in creative work) unless he or she has experienced the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows. Thus, depression provides the existential angst from which great art arises.
Finally, recent research on mood disorders and patterns of creativity suggests that it may not depression itself but recovery from depression that inspires creative work. Kay Redfield Jamison found that periods of creative productivity occur when individuals are either transitioning out of a depressive episode or are transitioning from normal mood into a manic or hypomanic episode.
In other words, creative productivity is linked to upward changes in mood. This dovetails nicely with work done by Alice Isen’s group at Cornell which found that people scored higher on creativity measures after a positive mood induction in the lab. Positive mood was induced by giving study participants a small, unexpected gift.
Okay, so maybe my artist friend doesn’t need to get depressed to improve her work; maybe all she needs is an unexpected gift (a manicure? a new pair of shoes? an unexpected snuggle from her four-year-old?). The point is, perhaps an upward change in mood can mimic recovery from depression and increase creative thinking.
If you’re currently suffering from creative block, try the “unexpected gift” strategy. You could either arrange for someone to surprise you with a small unexpected gift…or you could find a small, unexpected gift on your own (a flower growing in a crack in the sidewalk, a full moon rising over the trees, or the taste of a ripe strawberry – anything that inspires unexpected joy.) By keeping your senses open to unexpected pleasures, you may be able to get your creative juices flowing.
As an artist who suffers from depression I can relate to a few things in this article.
Firstly if my depression is especially deep I find it hard to get out of bed let alone do any creative work so in that regard depression does not help my creativity.
However, mild depression along with my introverted personality mean that I enjoy great periods of time in silence and solitude. When I am in this space, then I am the most active creatively. I am able to go into a cocoon where time has no value and am able to focus exclusively on what I am working on. I find intrusion or interruptions extremely annoying. This could include eating or answering the phone. In this regard I wonder if my depression or introverted nature help the intensity of the creative process. When I am in this space I find great joy in observation and not speaking. I will wander the streets taking in the sights or observe people in cafe’s or busy places. I like to drive into the inner city and look at historic architecture or to walk along secluded beaches. This refuels me and inspires me.
I am really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic and how this relates to you. Love Lisa
References: Ashby, F.G., Isen, A.M., & Turken, U. (1999). A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition. Psychological Review, 106(3), 529-550. Jamison, K. (1989). Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 52: 125-134.