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Is Creativity a Curse?

Recent studies have shown that artists may have more neural matter in their brains than the average person. This could be bad for creative types, because it could mean they are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. In a school full of creative students and teachers, this runs the risk of having a could have a negative impact on the KM Perform culture.

The personas of “mad genius” or “tortured artist” have been around forever. As early as 340 BC, Aristotle wrote, “Those who have been eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia.”  

But why is this stereotype so prominent? “KM Perform definitely has a stigma attached to it. I think people automatically associate us with having problems or just being sad,” says Shannon Garity, a junior in KM Perform. Depression has been linked to creativity for so long, nobody seems to be questioning the roots of the problem.  Let's take a look at some historical evidence.

Many of the 20th century's great writers, including Jack London, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and the Fitzgeralds suffered from mental illness. All of these people have either attempted or committed suicide. . The same appears to be true for visual artists and musicians, with examples such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, and Georgia O'Keeffe. History does show that many famous and respected creators particularly in the arts had scarring  early life experiences and mental and emotional instability. This doesn’t always mean that mental illness contributed to their creativity, but there is a connection. Some of the earlier studies looked at famous people in fields including literature and the arts. These studies found that creative people had a high number of mood disorders.  


The proof

According to Nancy C. Andreasen, neuroscientist, and author of The Creative Brain, creative people have an openness to new experiences, and tolerate uncertainty more than the average person. Andreason strongly believes that “Creative people are more likely to be productive and more original if surrounded by other creative people.” Creative brains are at higher risk for mental illness which partially stems from “a problem with filtering or gating the many stimuli that flow into the brain.” This is why you may sometimes feel the need to be away from everyone for short periods of time. “Such traits can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation,” writes Andreasen. Though artists experience higher rates of mood disorders and mental illness than the general population, the highs and lows tend to be brief and balanced out by long periods of normality.

Although there is a distinct link between artistic talent and mood disorders, it is proven that being in a collaborative environment with people who have similar personality traits has a postive effect on mental health. And when it comes down to it, when we are in a school full of creative people, we thrive off of each others originality. Though many of us may struggle with mental health issues, this could be seen as an opportunity. If the artistic community adopts new, young adult artists who are more aware of these potential issues and are armed with ways to treat and cope with these problems, there is a possibility of a future with not only a healthier community as a whole, but also a stronger one.


Lydia Kopperud

May, 2016