Is madness a prerequisite for creativity?

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“Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye –”
 – Emily Dickinson

I’ve gotten into the habit of referring to several highly talented, musically-inclined friends as “crazy musicians.” This isn’t being mean; it’s based on my lifelong learning about what musicians go through to come out with such awesomely creative works.

It also means the toll such awesome creativity takes, be it failed relationships, massive discontent, anxiety, insecurity, and/or any number of bad habits that help the person get out of their residual funk–often permanently. Death by drinking caused by depression seems to be in the lead, but people are pretty good at finding all sorts of ways to stop the pain. I’m being purposefully brief here, but yes, it’s quite sad.

Then I came across this article with such sentiments as:

“Creative people tend to see the world in novel and unconventional ways, and they often seek out intense and destabilizing experiences. Creative ideas are frequently generated during chaotic mental states characterized by loosening of associations that resemble the psychosis of mania or schizophrenia.” – Dr. Kogan, MD.

Which boils down to: Reasons why we have crazy musicians. And crazy writers. Or just plain crazy artists, which all of us creative types fall into. (As a side note, I suggest you read The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K Le Guin, writers especially.)

The whole article is quite fascinating. Dr. Kogan, himself a psychiastrist and concert pianist, mentions Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath,  the mathematician John Nash and 19th century German composer Robert Schumann. I’ve always loved Schumann’s music; I didn’t know he was living with mental illness at the same time:

“Schumann demonstrated both the creative advantages and disadvantages of mental illness. During his episodic depressive periods, he composed virtually nothing because he had difficulty in concentrating and was seized by the delusional conviction that he was a worthless composer. But when he cycled into hypomanic states, he was prolific. ”

So tell me this: If you’re a musician, writer, any kind of artist, when are you at your most creative? What haunts you? When are you most you, and when do you just want to get away from yourself?

And what do you do to cope?

Article: A Conversation With Dr Richard Kogan: The Creative Process and Psychopathology

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