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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Do We Need To Be Crazy To Be Creative?

This question has fascinated me for years. I am interested in psychiatric issues as I have worked in an acute mental health unit for three years, and I have always been creative so there have been more than a few occasions where I have wondered whether the two subjects can cross over. And of course there have been many case studies to prove this is true.

Some people picture the creative person as slightly eccentric. They may be dressed as a hippy and wear outrageous accessories. The music artist Jamiroquai is a fine example of someone who takes a piece of clothing to make him unique. No one can wear all those crazy hats and look as cool as he does.

But he's an example of someone eccentric who does not suffer mental health issues. He's part of the argument that goes against this particular question. He's an artist who has managed to lead a successful and fulfilling life.

Artists like Amy Winehouse prove that success and fame do not always provide guaranteed happiness. They still battle their demons and the results are sometimes tragic. How many people like this can you think of?

Many writers also battle depression, proving you don't always have to write song lyrics to fall into this category. Writers like Marian Keyes openly speak about their troubles, discussing in detail how they feel on a day to day basis. Mental illness can sometimes be the result of negative thinking patterns, and every writer knows that in order to produce books you have to do an awful lot of thinking. It just depends on whether you think mostly negative thoughts or positive ones.

I don't consider myself as someone who suffers from mental health issues as I have seen some severely ill people over my lifetime. However, I do recognise that I sometimes worry to excess and I put this down to my over active imagination. My brain seems to be lacking the switch which turns off thoughts before they snowball. And once I have a particular thought that troubles me I find getting rid of it very hard indeed.

So, what do you think? Do you have to be crazy in order to be creative? Do you suffer from the issues I have raised?


  1. I think the key word here might be ‘great’. You don’t have to be crazy to write—from about the age of five or six most of us are capable of telling stories—but all you have to do is look at the truly great writers to see a pattern. It’s the shit that feeds the plant. If they’re not mentally ill then they’ll have family or social problems or something and all of these affect a person’s mental stability. I don’t see most great writers as happy people at their core. When this question crops up I always think of Isaac Asimov and The Bicentennial Man. The robot, Andrew, shows an artistic talent which is not a part of his programming. The company want to ‘fix’ him but his owner refuses to let them. It’s not the main thrust of the story but it jumped out at me because none of the ‘normal’ people around me growing up were artistic in any shape or form. My parents never owned a single novel between them or a single LP and yet they had a son who wrote poetry and music. Hard not to feel broken and yet I liked being broken. I’m reading The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat at the moment and the section I’ve just finished focuses on a man with Tourette’s who’s provided with a cure and yet is miserable because of it. Because of the drug he feels slowed down. Prior to this he was a talented drummer and table tennis player; in both cases his nervous ticks were incorporated into his playing but without them he was just ordinary. His solution was to come of the drugs at the weekend to give himself a life. Was he broken? Yes, of course. But is ‘broken’ necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so.

  2. I agree with Jim in some respects. I have come across many great writers, artists and even inventors who have had some form of angst in their lives - be it physical or mental illness, hardship or violence etc. All have had some thing, some trigger that has in turn led them to express themselves externally. To me there has to be a link, in one of my poems I say 'How can one write about pain if one has never suffered it?'
    To play devils advocate who is to determine what is sane or for that matter whether sane is all that it is cracked up to be. Since being diagnosed with depression, I have written more and read more than at any other time previously. If this is madness, I'm not sure that I would ever want to be fully cured ;o)

  3. Such an interesting point but I think it's absolutely true.

    Who would spend months of their lives writing about people who don't exist in situations that never happened?
    You'd have to be quite odd, wouldn't you?

    As somebody once wrote, "you don't have to be mad to work here but it helps!"

  4. The question asked is 'do you have to be crazy in order to be creative?' Well, no, but it helps!
    Helps because if you're a little crazy you often don't fit in to the flow, so your deep feelings and emotions spill out into your creative work.
    Being 'different' can often ostracize you from the crowd, not fit in in the work place or at social gatherings and can, potentially, ruin your life. But it is often these people who bring us the best poetry, best lyrics, best music, best art, best creative writing and touch our lives with meaning.
    These people appear to have a deeper understanding of human nature; some may go down hill and be unable to cope with the intense emotions they feel, others will lose themselves in writing, creating a world where they are able to give expression to their 'crazy' emotions.
    So, in a sense, to be creative does lend itself to a little craziness.
    Being a bit crazy is far more fun and far less boring than being 'normal'.

  5. Thank you very much everyone for your thoughtful and insightful comments. I think this is my most talked about blog post to date and I have kept this blog for nearly two years. It seems a little crazy to me now why I did not think of this subject before! ;)

  6. Sometimes I see things that are not there. I don't imagine it. They just show up. Abstract images, vibrant colours, numbers, letters, faces and objects floating in front of me.

    I know I am not crazy, not hallucinating and definitely not on drugs. But they say this happens to some creative people. (and the crazy ones.)

    It scared me at first. Now I am so used to it, sometimes I just ignore them.

    And yes! You don't have to be crazy to get creative ideas.

  7. Hi,

    I wrote a comment to you in Writania but I will add a few words here. I don't think that creativity means you have to be crazy. But your creativity can be a hard taskmaster when you abuse it, when you ignore it, or when you don't know where you are going with it. I believe a lot of creative people concentrate so hard on getting there that when they do arrive, they don't know how to handle it. Their struggles to achieve leave them empty because they have not prepared for the success.


  8. I don't think you have to be crazy to be creative for one main reason. Mental illness causes the sufferer to lose self control and in order to be creative you have to exercise an extreme amount of self discipline. When a person is well then they may be able to be creative but not whilst they're ill.

  9. I have to disagree with you when you say, “When a person is well then they may be able to be creative but not whilst they're ill.” I have suffered from depression for most of my life but it’s never stopped me writing. I wrote my first two novels whilst suffering from a major depression in fact and they’re about the funniest things I’ve ever written. I can’t speak for others or other mental illnesses but you can’t make broad brush statements like that. Willem de Kooning's Alzheimer's was diagnosed in his late eighties. During the following years, he painted more than 300 abstract paintings, which (now) art critics assess as among the finest and most sensitive artistic achievements in contemporary painting although at the time there was much debate about how much of the artist there was in there and how much was him on automatic pilot for want of a better expression. You might find this article on Bipolar Disorder and Poetic Genius of interest.

  10. Hi Jim, thanks for commenting again. I think it's down to the individual person. Some say they can't perform whilst they're ill and some say their illness doesn't affect them. But I have said this because most people who have commented on the issue have said they need to be well enough to be creative.

  11. I think if Creatives are depressed it is probably mostly because of society and acceptance issues.

    Creatives are a small percentage of the population and therefore are often misunderstood.

    Quite sad actually

  12. Creatives are misunderstood by the people who don't understand them which are those with lesser IQ's than the creatives. The creatives are creative because they have higher IQ's, otherwise they wouldn't be creative!

    As someone highly creative, enlightened, informative, intelligent, likable, positive, confident, direct, honest, sincere, and down-right nasty sometimes, but corrective, it is with the utmost purpose to direct people into the paths of righteousness, as God who leads.

    As for crazy in brilliance I am affected mentally, but not crazy in violence such as stabbing, shooting, killing. Crazy in the sense of abnormal behavior caused from 'brilliant in thought' such as rapid talking to access. The 'knowing I am right, you are wrong' attitude. The quick mental wit. The knowing of answers. The astute intuitiveness that drives the spirit. It's a knowing!

  13. If you are mentally sound and well balanced in thought, sensible, then listening to your intuition is important. Your intuition is right, if you think you can't you're right, but if you think you can you're right too! That's your intuition telling you to be confident and follow what yourself tells you, whether you can or can't, that's knowing yourself through your own intuitiveness. And as Socrates said--Know theyself. To know thyself is to listen to thyself--that's your intuition--the voice of reason within you, be it God or be it yourself!

    Mentally ill can be as innocent as self-expression expressed in rapid fire form verbally, because of astute ability for deep thought. To think on the lines of killing is severe mental disorder, the thinking is disturbed. In which the mental illness lable is better suited.

  14. Donna, thanks for commenting - I absolutely love this! 'Creatives are misunderstood by the people who don't understand them which are those with lesser IQ's than the creatives. The creatives are creative because they have higher IQ's, otherwise they wouldn't be creative!'

  15. Thanks LK Watts

    As someone highly creative, I become eccentric in my brilliant moments. Like focusing my sole attention on something for hours and getting riled up if anyone disturbs me. I experience 'Mad Scientist' syndrome--eccenticity. My thoughts are at a high level of consciousness in these moments I feel brilliant.

    Creative people have abilities, which have nothing to do with education. One is born with these abilities. Genius is about the ability to 'think deeply' clarify one's self through one's own ability to do so. The more genius one is the more eccentric she'll be, because she's using more of her brain than mediocre-minded do, thus making her appear an oddball. An oddball is distinguished, set apart from the norm, she's obviously different physically and mentally!
    From studying myself, I've learned the differences from 'normal behavior' and 'Mad Scientist' behavior as both make up my existence! Mad Scientist behavior is intolerable even to myself, but one learns tolerance from the intolerable!

    The above is pertaining to myself, the truth of me!

  16. When I say 'oddball' I'm saying different from the norm. I don't appreciate silly behavior, silly is not me. Daring is me. Inflicted with oddities define my behaviors of someone separate from the norm. Such as blunt forthright questions, not taking into consideration of what others think. An oppositional viewpoint of others if I disagree with foolish concepts. No fear of others intellectually speaking, daring, confident, imaginative, positive entity defines my being!