Genius and Madness: Creativity and mood: The myth that madness heightens creative genius.
As with mental disorders, there is something mysterious and unexplainable about the creative process. But all significant creative leaps have two very important components—talent and technique. By far the most universal and necessary aspect of technique is dogged persistence, which is anything but romantic.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, best known for his work on flow, has spent four decades studying the creative process. He recounts the experience of sculptor Nina Holton. "Tell anybody you're a sculptor and they'll say, 'Oh, how exciting, how wonderful,'" Holton told him. Her response to such comments: "What's so wonderful?" Then she explains that being a sculptor is "like being a mason or a carpenter half the time." She finds that "they don't wish to hear that because they really only imagine the first part, the exciting part. But, as Khruschev once said, that doesn't fry pancakes, you see. That germ of an idea does not make a sculpture that stands up. So the next stage is the hard work. Can you really translate it into a piece of sculpture?"
It's entirely possible, Weisberg notes, that the elevated rates of mental disorders among artistic geniuses comes about as a result of the creative lifestyle, which hardly provides emotional stability. Many artists struggle against poverty and public indifference in their lifetime. And if they do indeed produce works that are acclaimed, they could succumb to the overwhelming pressure to live up to their earlier successes.
Its is hard to ignore the mountains of biographies and anecdotal evidence that have pointed for so long in the other direction.
Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament is one of the best examinations of bipolar disorder among artists.
An interesting insight from the University of Toronto and Harvard (2003): Biological Basis For Creativity Linked To Mental Illness
The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.
Mental illness has often been used to inform creative process and serve as a basis for aesthetic development. For years I've been meaning to write an essay on David Lynch's aesthetic and mental illness. This is especially true of his early work. Notice the way that pauses, sounds and "looks" from people take on massive significance and cause for moments of anxiety in Eraserhead. This is a hallmark of many forms of mental illness, seemingly insignificant occurrences producing life-shattering, paralyzing effects on the afflicted.
Salvador Dali, who is famous for saying "the only difference between a madman and myself is that I am not mad" developed what he called the Paranoiac-Critical method, the "spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena."
His authobiography, Salvador Dal: Diary of a Genius is my favorite artist biography. The first line: At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since.