Elyn Saks (photo at right in Part 1) is a law professor at USC; an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, where she does research about society’s rejection of the mentally ill and how high-functioning schizophrenics cope; and is a recipient of a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
An article notes “She kept her schizophrenia hidden while excelling in her academic studies, receiving a philosophy degree from Oxford University and a law degree from Yale University.”
She wrote of her experiences in her memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.”
See more in post: Elyn Saks, Schizophrenia and Creativity.
She has commented, “Ironically, the more I accepted I had a mental illness, the less the illness defined me — at which point the riptide set me free.”
One of the myths of creative and multitalented people may be that they can choose whatever personal and career paths they want.
Having many interests and abilities can make for a rich and satisfying life, but also be a source of stress, especially at crossroads like choosing college majors.
Gifted education specialist Tamara Fisher quotes Bryant (a pseudonym), a graduating senior who lists his possible future careers as “applied psychologist, scientific psychologist, college teacher, philosophy, mathematics, architect, engineer.”
“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.”
“For me, fashion is incredibly emotional. I go to shows in Paris and try not to cry.” Actor Jessica Chastain
Qualities such as emotionality and empathy can help highly sensitive people be especially creative.
The self-test Are You Highly Sensitive? by Elaine N. Aron, PhD includes the items:
“I have a rich, complex inner life” and
“I am deeply moved by the arts or music.”
“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:
[Continued from Part 1]
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.”
How does our self concept, our identity, affect creative expression?
How do we find creative passions and how does pursuing them demand changes in our life?
One example of an artist who has addressed these questions is Natalie Fobes.
A bio on her site summarizes some of her personal journey and work:
“Not many photographers have faced winds of 90 knots and seas of 40 feet while on a fishing boat in the middle of the Bering Sea.
“Few can describe the bitter cold of a Siberian winter while camped out with Chukchi reindeer herders. Or say that their first client was National Geographic Magazine.
One of the themes of creativity research, and many psychologists and creativity coaches, is how crucial beliefs and attitudes are in developing our creative abilities.
Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson talks in the audio clip below about the prevalent idea of ‘genius’ for whether someone can be creative – or even aspire to be.
She also writes about focus and creating, and that “to be a successful creative, you need to not only be a good generator, but also a good evaluator. The problem is that in practice, it’s remarkably hard to be both.
“It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.” Steve Jobs
According to some writers and research, some of the “big names” of creativity and innovation share personal qualities with various sorts of “misfits.”
In her Forbes magazine article, writer Erica Swallow refers to the book “The Innovator’s DNA” which lists several “disruptive innovators” including a number of creative and business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman (eBay) and Sharon Aby (Beyond Ideas).