The darkness associated with creativity.

Creativity is usually linked to depression, mental disorders, anxiety and a battery of psychological problems. Hence, the ‘dark side of creativity. Is darkness is an outcome of creativity or is it the other way round? This question might sound trivial to some, but it sure does intrigue me. Let’s know what the biggie researchers have to say about this.

Edvard Munch-927566
Edvard Munch created one of the most recognized masterpieces in history. “The Scream”, which came to him in a sinister vision as he stood on the edges of Oslofjord.

“The sun began to set – suddenly the sky turned blood red,” he wrote. “I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an endless scream passing through nature.” Were his words. Munch experienced indispensably high levels of anxiety in his life but they were also the driving force behind his art. “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

Munch was not the only one.

Vincent Van Gogh. was a major impressionist painter. Throughout his life, he vacilated between ‘genius’ and ‘madness’. He cut his ear after an altercation with one of his friends. In a letter to his brother Theo in 1888 he wrote: “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head… at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”

Studies have found that creative minds are associated with mood disorders. Charles Dickens suffered from clinical depression., along with Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy. The poetess Sylvia Plath took her own life by sticking her head into the microwave while her kids were fast asleep. Critics rightly pointed out that these studies focused on very specific groups of high-achievers, and that they relied on anecdotal evidence.

Using a registry of psychiatric patients, they tracked nearly 1.2 million Swedes and their relatives. The patients demonstrated conditions ranging from schizophrenia and depression to ADHD and anxiety syndromes.

They found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were 8% more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers were a staggering 121% more likely to suffer from the condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

They also found that people in creative professions were more likely to have relatives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia and autism.

That is significant. Earlier studies on families have suggested that there could be an inherited trait that gives rise to both creativity and mental illness.

Some people may inherit a form of the trait that fosters creativity without the burden of mental illness, while others may inherit an amped-up version that stokes anxiety, depression and hallucinations.

There is anecdotal evidence supporting the connection. Albert Einstein’s son lived with schizophrenia, as did James Joyce’s daughter.

Keri Szaboles, a psychiatrist at Semmelweis University in Hungary, has studied the role genes may play more directly.

Szaboles gave 128 participants a creativity test followed by a blood test. He found that those who demonstrated the greatest creativity carried a gene associated with severe mental disorders.

Method in the madness?

Psychologists have established a link between mental illness and creativity, but they are still piecing together the mechanisms that underlie it.

In September neuroscientist Andreas Fink and his colleagues at the University of Graz in Austria published a study comparing the brains of creative people and people living with schizotypy.

Schizotypy is a less severe manifestation of schizophrenia. People with the condition may demonstrate odd beliefs (like a belief in aliens) or behavior (like wearing inappropriate clothes). Unlike schizophrenics, they do not have delusions and are not disconnected from reality.

Fink and his team recruited participants demonstrating low and high levels of schizotypy. They then slid them into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, and asked them to come up with novel ways of using every day objects. They later assessed the originality of their responses.

One of the greatest artists of all time, Michelangelo Buonarroti, is thought to have suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. His frescoes and sculptures are masterful in its exquisite details, and he would reputedly shut himself away from the world for days at a time to create.

An interesting pattern emerged. Among those high in schizotypy and those who scored highest on originality, the right precuneus – a region of the brain involved in attention and focus – kept firing during idea generation. Normally this region deactivates during a complex task, which is thought to help a person focus.

Put more simply, the results suggest that creatives and those with high levels of schizotypy take in more information and are less able to ignore extraneous details. Their brain does not allow them to filter.

Scott Barry Kaufman, an American psychologist and writer for Scientific American, has summed up the results this way. “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible,” he writes. “Because you never know: sometimes the most bizarre associations can turn into the most productively creative ideas.”

Clearly some people suffer for their art, and clearly some art stems from suffering. But it would be inaccurate to say that all creatives run the risk of mental illness.

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Hole to Halo

Before they gave me existence,

They called for me;

With immense anticipation I went to face them,

“Alleluia! What do you want to be?”

~~~

Oh what outlandish people they were!

They were rounder than anything I had ever seen

And that, my friends, gave me the spur

“I want to be a hole just like you!” For by them, I was weaned.

~~~~~

So taken aback they were, they gasped;

“It is unfathomable and hard, being a hole”;

“You could be a bird, a song or a hug that could be clasped”;

“I will be a hole, please make me one”, I cajoled.

~~~~

They sent me down, what a jolly childhood I had

I was omnipresent;

Filling every moment with my essence

Be it happy or sad.

~~~~

I was there when a baby was born

First to witness it, even before its mother

I helped it push itself into existence

I was there, when there was no other.

~~~~

As the child grew, I was its comrade

I was a ring he flung through air to his friend

Hard times struck when he lied to his mother

about zero marks and the F grade.

~~~

The best memory I have is that of a church

Where I was the hallmark of true love

He slid me into the finger of his beloved wife

And they kissed under the heavens above.

~~~~

Three years passed, it was the momentous day

“I’m pregnant, she said”

He smiled and gifted her a diamond pendant

I had to stretch myself hard to sit around her neck, exhilarated.

~~~~

One day I was called by a sparrow

To watch over her eggs while she flew west;

I assured, “They will be fine, don’t your harrow”

On a branch I lay, forming her nest.

~~~~

Another time in a physics class I was commemorated

That I begot the universe

“the black hole”, they’d call me”

That day, fear gripped me, for ‘black’ is oft a curse.

~~~~

Now things have changed

Owing to the years bygone

I am gnarled and fragile

Humming to myself, songs forlorn.

~~~~

The child has grown, the bird has flown

I am now old and dark;

My fear grows stronger each day

And devours my silhouette which is now not so stark.

~~~~

Every moment I’m loathed

I am gruesome and an imprecation, ugly and futile

“I guard the door to hell” I’m told

After having lived for others, I am now called imbecile.

~~~~

I wanted to go back to that time

Only to alter the decision of being a hole

The decision that was completely mine

The decision, that eventually trampled my soul.

~~~~

I finally decided to be a drop of water

And volatilize with the kiss of sunshine

“don’t give up, don’t falter”

I heard  a voice from behind.

~~~~

I turned around, to see the same sparrow

She too had grown as old as I

“you have lived a virtuous life,

This is not the way you deserve to die”.

~~~~

She picked me up by her beak

And sung to me the heaven’s mellow

She put me around the angel’s head

That’s how I became a halo.

~~~~

This is where I deserve to be

Halo is what I shall be called in times ahead

I reside with each one of you

Go to the mirror, and look above your head.

An Epiphany

Everyone has that one day in their lives which gives them a new perspective to live their lives with. One such day, and it can change lives in ways beyond wildest of the fantasies; one such day and you don’t remain the same person as you used to be, anymore. Now when I realize how invaluable this beautiful gift of life is, I am grateful to have lived through that day in my life. 18th October, 2014. Being the kind of person who loves venturing out with friends, I, along with five others started progressing from Patiala and headed for Manali. We had three bikes and our journey was supposed to be around 350 km long, filled with gigantic mountains and profound valleys. How excited each one of us was! I mean six friends who had just crossed the ‘adulthood milestone’, with bikes and aiming for the mountains! We were living the fantasy all of us bore in our hearts since time immemorial. We started with our expedition on the night of 17th of October and after covering 250 km through the night, all of us mutually decided to halt at Mandi. I wouldn’t call the road a very broad one; on one side of us were the mountains and the mighty river Beas on the other. Before we could even work out our decision, the unfortunate struck. As I was riding one of the bikes with another person sitting on the pillion, I felt a rush of dizziness. My head started spinning and my hands felt numb. Before I could have even thought of doing something about it, our bike rammed into the mountains and within the next few moments, it was nothing but pitch black. I couldn’t see a thing, I couldn’t feel a thing; yet somewhere in the back of my head, I, very faintly could register the sound of the flowing river and the panicked voices of my friends which made me realise I wasn’t dead yet. Then suddenly, I felt a great force pull me out of the darkness, into the light. Gradually, I gained back my consciousness and I started sensing excruciating pain in my foot which kept increasing with the level of my consciousness. I opened my eyes, and that moment.. in that moment I was gifted with an epiphany. My heart pounded so hard that I could feel it right till my temple. Had our bike gone onto the other side instead of hitting into the mountains, we would have fallen into the abyss and the world would have lost the essence of our existence. I struggling hard with moving my foot, turned around to check on my friend. To my relief, he had escaped without a scratch. Later on, I learnt that the sharp pain in my foot was actually a fracture. Since then, my life’s changed. I cherish every moment. I love harder, I laugh harder and I drive more carefully. I try to live each day like I may die by the end of it. After all, who knows? I even may.

Sky and World.

Subdued face; yet a sonrisa as fervid,

Her eyes spoke of her own ineffable mysteries.

As the night struck, she waited for the diabolical World to be lulled into sleep;

The World, who, through the day, kept her clutched in his travesties.

~~~~~

As the night struck, she opened her wings;

Away she flew, embracing the Sky,

Far from the World of (self-proclaimed) princes and kings,

Without even caring to know why.

~~~~~

In the vault of heaven, she heard his echo;

that seemed way more glorious than she ever knew,

And every time that she flapped her wings,

She believed in his magic with more certitude.

~~~~~

She took her ears closer to the heart of Sky, without a spark of fear;

And hearing her spirit throb though it,

She let him steal a part of her mystical fire,

As a souvenir.

~~~~~

He wanted her to stay, and fly in his arms till eternity,

But he knew, he would lose her if she stayed;

He would lose her if she stayed,

And she would lose her crudity.

~~~~~

“Will you come again tomorrow?” the Sky asked

“Only if the World sets me free”, she said and wept;

With heavy wings and a heavy heart,

She flew back to the World and slept.

Merry Christmas!

Must be morning by now,
So I opened my eyes
Couldn’t see a thing,
Mom, am I blind?
There’s nothing I can see around
Mom, please tell me, am I blind?
She called me closer to her,
Couldn’t use her hands as there weren’t any.
Pacified me just by her presence,
For I couldn’t hear her either.
Last night while we were all tucked in bed,
The unknown toured the earth.
They hated how little we knew each other’s worth.
They took away our misemployed brain,
Our eyes that saw evil,
Our legs while we ran away from the truth;
Our ears that heard nothing far from ill,
Our hearts that bore no ruth.
Now we have no bodies, so what’s ruby what’s gold?
What’s rich what’s poor; what’s true and what’s untold?
B..b..but where’d they take everything? I stammered.
To a place where there aren’t seventy three truths and fifty seven Gods.
To the souls which deserve to be expressed more than us.

Mom I’m scared;
Have they left nothing behind?
No oceans, no birds, no deaf or the blind?
Well, we have our souls, the element of existence, unscarred, and intact.
Which tells what’s compassion and what’s conscience that lacked.

Souls don’t know what’s male what’s rat;
Who’s beggar who’s saint,
What’s glamour what’s fat?

B..but how are you so sure? I asked
Just like you were so sure that I was your mom.