“The very impulse to write, I think, springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning, and that meaning must be discovered in the process of writing or the work lies dead as it is finished.” Arthur Miller
Creative people and writers about the creative process often say creative work is a way to release or make use of inner chaos; what is this turmoil?
Psychologist Stephen Diamond declares in his book that our impulse to be creative “can be understood to some degree as the subjective struggle to give form, structure and constructive expression to inner and outer chaos and conflict.”
“I’ve suffered enough. When does my artwork improve?” Refrigerator magnet
The tortured artist mythology is an ancient and enduring one: The idea that art depends on suffering, and artists need to be suffering with dark emotions, and need their pain to create.
But that is a wrong and destructive idea.
For example, in his appearance as a guest on The Ellen Show, Colin Farrell said he is more creative being sober and happy.
“I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
Musician Sting also said he bought into this myth for a long time:
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As Dr. Webb explains “Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence… (or ‘ultimate concerns’) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.”
His related book: Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.
Webb has written extensively about how characteristics of giftedness that are a part of so many people – including well-known artists such as Robin Williams – are often misdiagnosed.
The tone of a number of responses to the suicide of Robin Williams seem based in the insidious “Crazy Artist” mythology: that artistic creativity depends on mental disorder.
A number of people have expressed the idea that his brilliance and creative comic energy were fueled by his “demons” including addiction and bipolar depression.
One example was columnist Meghan Daum, who wrote: “As an actor and a comic, his emotional pendulum swung in a wide arc between manic ebullience and almost Zen-like sincerity.
“And the ease with which he occupied both realms…must surely be a kind of bipolar magic.”
Photographic images can be a powerful form of expression for creative people, and also a tool for therapists and anyone to help explore our inner selves.
This image by artist Jennifer Moon is titled “A Story of a Girl and a Horse: The Search for Courage.”
A news article about an installation of her photographs, sculpture and text-based works at UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2014″ biennial, describes the piece as a “self-portrait, a chromogenic digital photo [that] depicts Moon on a chocolate brown horse, leaping over a bed of clouds shot through with electricity, as if she were riding a flying Unicorn.”
One kind of pressure is feeling an intense urge to create; it is probably an inherent part of being a creative person.
But other pressures can lead to stress and overwhelm, and being pulled away from the joys of creating.
Annemarie Roeper (founder of the Roeper School and The Roeper Review, a professional journal on the gifted) wrote about this intense inner pressure to create as a characteristic of high ability people – but you may experience this even if you are not “technically” gifted:
“Gifted adults may be overwhelmed by the pressure of their own creativity. The gifted derive enormous satisfaction from the creative process.
A number of psychologists note that many personality traits connected with ADD and ADHD are also associated with highly creative people.
This is a topic I have addressed in previous Creative Mind posts, but here are some new perspectives, inspired by a documentary by Lisa Ling who was diagnosed with ADD during the course of her research for the project.
She commented, “As a journalist, when I’m immersed in a story, then I feel like I can laser-focus. But if I’m not working, my mind goes in every direction but where it’s supposed to go. I’ve been like that since I was a kid.”
Most of us experience some kind of trauma in life.
How does it impact creative people, and how can creative expression help?
Acclaimed actor Patrick Stewart is one of many artists who have been deeply impacted by trauma in early life.
An interview article notes he “was for decades a man plagued by fear and stifled by rage. The roots of his struggle go back to a difficult childhood, marked by poverty and abuse that took him years to understand.”
Even very talented people may experience fraud or impostor feelings, which can lead to insecurity about their abilities, despite their accomplishments.
“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Jodie Foster made that comment in her acceptance speech as recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award several years ago.
A highly accomplished actor, director and producer, Foster also said, “I suppose that’s my one little secret, the secret of my success.”
From my article: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
Wilson thinks that with our “feel good” culture and the “widespread use of happy drugs, everybody’s trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of melancholy and sadness. When this happens, art becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant.”
Genn notes, “Dr. Thomas Svolos of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. ‘When you’re melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,’ he says. ‘That kind of questioning is essential for creativity.’