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.”
[Robin Williams: A Mork in the family, Los Angeles Times, Aug 13, 2014.]
~ ~ ~
Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison points out, “No one knows the nature of Mr. Williams’ problems…but the possibility of a link between ‘madness’ and creativity is ancient and persistent.”
She adds, “It is also controversial; some believe that making such a link romanticizes painful, potentially lethal illnesses and ignores the diversity of temperament and imagination that is essential to artistic work as a pathology.”
But, she declares, “Mood, temperament, behavioral and cognitive factors associated with bipolar illness can, in some people, make them more creative by increasing the fluency and originality of their thinking, as well as by increasing risk-taking, ambition, energy, exuberance and a desire to create meaning from suffering and chaos.
“It must be emphasized that most creative people do not have a mental illness and most people who have mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, are not unusually creative.”
[Bipolar disorder and the creative mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, CNN Opinion, August 15, 2014.]
Jamison has written extensively about mood disorders and creativity and is the author of An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.
~ ~ ~
Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman commented on the death of Williams, that his “comedic genius was a result of many factors, including his compassion, playfulness, divergent thinking, imagination, intelligence, affective repertoire, and unique life experiences.
“In contrast, his suicide was strongly influenced by his mental illness.
“This romanticism of mental illness needs to stop.”
[Robin Williams’s Comedic Genius Was Not a Result of Mental Illness, but His Suicide Was, The Creativity Post Aug 12, 2014.]
~ ~ ~
James Thurman Webb, PhD (president of Great Potential Press) commented in a Facebook post about Robin Williams: “I have no doubt that he was a highly gifted man who struggled with existential depression.
“His intensity, sensitivity, and search for life meaning, characteristic of so many gifted people, permeated his life.”
[Photo at top: Robin Williams in What Dreams May Come, 1998.]
~ ~ ~