Friday, January 6, 2012

The Mental Illness of Creativity

Being an indie author and a painter, I have had the opportunity to meet many other creative types.  I have also read about a lot of different artists, mostly painters, or watched documentaries about them.  What I have discovered is that for the vast majority of them, mental illness seems to be part of their make-up.

Everyone assumes that being talented in the arts is a blessing.  Yes, indeed it is in many ways.  In some ways, though, it is a curse.  Most of us will never make much money at all from our artistic endeavors.  To pursue the life of an artist full time is usually equivalent to pursuing poverty.  It is not enjoyable to move from crappy room or apartment to another, nor is it enjoyable to wonder where your next meal comes from. How many famous artists made money while they were alive?  Point made. For a painter, fame usually follows death.,,if it comes at all.

So, most of us work at other jobs.  Usually, these jobs feel to us like they are sucking our soul out of our body.  Some of us always work at something else full time.  Some work part-time.  Others take some time off to just create, hoping against hope that they will find a way to continue full time at what they were meant to do.

This creates other problems.  If we have other jobs, our free time is limited.  Do we create or do we involve ourselves in personal relationships?  It is damn difficult to work 40 hours, write or paint, be a lover and friend, raise kids, take care of a home,  and all of the other things that involve life.
The artist is always torn. Really, the reason they are here is to create.  When they are not creating, they feel real anguish and a pull that is hard to silence.  When they create, they become so involved in their work that everything outside of that is shut out.  That hurts people they love.

Because artists are human, they also need love and want to love.  If they take the time to be involved with another adult, take the time to have children and really enjoy them....when do they create?  Do they give up sleep to create?  That can't be continued forever, either.

That is the conflict that creatives face every moment of each day.  One thing that I have noticed and discussed with many artists is the fact that, if you read about almost any past painter, almost every one of them either spent time in a mental institution (sometimes more than once), had alcohol or drug problems, or committed suicide.  Seriously, I would bet at least 90% of them.

So, here is my question.  Are creatives already mentally ill because of the way they see things?  Or does the stress of trying to create, make a living, and be involved with others all at the same time cause it?  I know I see things differently than most.  I always have. I have also struggled with some forms of mental illness.  Drugs for it dull creativity so I opt to go without.  Learn to cope. Accept my alienation that I feel at times.  Go deep inside and ground myself.

Ah, yes.  The blessing of creative talent.  Is my storytelling simply a way to escape reality?  I don't know.  What about my painting?  Is it a blessing? When I am dead, who will give a damn about the hundreds of canvases painted in my basement? When I think of that, my paintbrush feels more like a dagger that could, at any time, be plunged deep into my heart.

And so I go back to square one.  Go back, as I said, deep within myself to find my grounding.  I remember, once again, that I don't create simply because I am good enough or because I love it.  I create because I have to.  That is why I am here. Words and me.  Color and me.  Why I am here.

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