There are a number of intriguing examples of notable creative ability and expression related to changes in brain structure and function from disease, stroke, injury, developmental disability or other conditions.
Darold Treffert, M.D., one of the foremost experts on savantism notes, “Savant syndrome is a rare but remarkable condition in which people with developmental disabilities, including autism or other central nervous system disorders, have some remarkable islands of genius that stand in stark contrast to their overall handicap.”
He refers to three levels of savant syndrome: “splinter skills…youngsters, or adults, who memorize sports trivia or birthdays or may even do some calendar-calculating…Then there’s a second level of savants that I call talented savants…Generally, they are more highly honed into one particular skill, such as music or art, for example.
“And then there’s a third level, which I call prodigious savants. These are people whose skills are so spectacular that, if they were not disabled, they would be at a genius level.
His film “The Tree of Life” just won the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but director Terrence Malick chose not to appear in person to accept it.
Shyness is one of a number of personal qualities that Malick shares with many other creative and gifted people.
In a recent profile article, writer Steven Zeitchik notes that friends and collaborators ‘paint a portrait of the reclusive filmmaker as a complicated and contradictory man.’
“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.” Herman Melville, “Billy Budd, Sailor”
According to the World Health Organization, psychological disorders affect a third to nearly half of people at some point in their life.
The site for the documentary Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness states “More than 2.3 million people in the U.S. have bipolar disorder; 10 million have a depressive disorder. 5.4 percent of all Americans have a serious, on-going mental illness. Other reports state that 23 percent of Americans aged 18 and older have a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, while 9-13 percent of children ages 9-17 have a ‘serious emotional disturbance with substantial functional impairment.’
“By some estimates, 35 percent of people will suffer from a diagnosed brain disorder during their lifetime.”
Many of the people who suffer mental health challenges are artists – often very accomplished and well-known actors, writers, musicians and others.
In a Fast Company magazine article a few years ago, Bill Breen addressed business creativity and innovation in the workplace and asked, “What can leaders do to sustain the stimulants to creativity — and break through the barriers?”
He outlines a number of myths related to developing creativity that psychologist Teresa Amabile (Harvard Business School) has found in her research.
Here are some excerpts from the article, quoting Amabile:
1. Creativity Comes From Creative Types
When I give talks to managers, I often start by asking, Where in your organization do you most want creativity? Typically, they’ll say R&D, marketing, and advertising. When I ask, Where do you not want creativity? someone will inevitably answer, “accounting.”
A fascinating article in Scientific American magazine interviews hearing specialist and sax player Charles J. Limb, who says that his studies of the brain of musicians during improvisation may provide new understanding of creativity
The article explains, “Limb and National Institutes of Health neurologist Allen R. Braun have developed a method for studying the brains of highly skilled jazz musicians while they are creating music.
“Subjects play on a nonmagnetic keyboard as they lie in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine that takes pictures of their brain. Then the scientists compare neural activity during improvisation with what happens when playing a memorized piece.”
In their Dyslexic Advantage site post Dyslexic Actor, Anthony Hopkins – Thor Interview, Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide quote from a Biography Channel profile that Hopkins, due to his dyslexia, “preferred to paint and play the piano rather than making friends at school.”
Hopkins recalls: “I was lousy in school: a real screw-up, a moron. I was antisocial and didn’t bother with the other kids… I didn’t know what I was doing there. That’s why I became an actor.”
The Eides note Hopkins is distantly related to poet W.B. Yeats who also had dyslexia, and comment, “Hopkins’ work exemplifies dyslexic strengths with the music of language, social and nonverbal perception, seeing from multiple perspectives, and personal memory.”
“My identity shifted when I got into recovery.” Eric Clapton
In her new book Creativity for 21st Century Skills, Professor Jane Piirto describes “what many creative people really do when they create” (according to the publisher summary) and includes references to the impact of creative expression in the lives of creative people.
One of the many topics she covers is the motivation to create.
She writes, “The main cause for creativity is that the creative person wants to be creative, in whatever domain he or she is working – whether it be woodworking in the basement, dancing, acting, drawing, singing, doing science, mathematics, inventing, being an entrepreneur, being an athlete, cooking, sewing, building, designing.
Psychologist Rollo May explains the classic Greek conception of the “daimonic” or darker side of our being (unlike the demonic, which is merely destructive) is “as much concerned with creativity as with negative reactions.
“The daimonic model considers both creativity on one side, and anger and rage on the other side, as coming from the same source. That is, constructiveness and destructiveness have the same source in human personality. The source is simply human potential.”
[From his foreword to psychologist Stephen A. Diamond's book, from my interview with Dr. Diamond: The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons.]
Megamind: “All men must choose between two paths. Good is the path of honour, heroism, and nobility. Evil… well, it’s just cooler.”