The Link Between Creativity and Insanity, and Robin Williams

I’ve written about depression extensively on this site in the past. And due the recent death of Robin Williams, allegedly as a result of suicide after a life-long battle with depression, I thought I should write this post.

It made me think of something I’ve considered for a long, long time. To be a great artist (or a great anything) do you have to be a little bit mad?

NO excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness,’’ ~Aristotle

The link between creativity and insanity has fascinated me for a long time.

I’m a big fan of The Doors and their singer, Jim Morrison. He was one of the greatest singers, poets and front men to ever grace the stage, had millions of fans worldwide, yet was drunk, depressed, maniacal, peed his pants often and died at 27 in a bathtub in Paris.

Whenever I heard the other members of the band in interviews complaining about Jim’s behavior I thought “Of course he was a lunatic you assholes, that’s what made him so good.”

The feeling was so strong that during a premiere of a new Doors documentary, attended by the surviving members of the band I was tempted to approach the guys and tell them how I felt about it. Luckily I held my tongue and wasn’t thrown out of the premiere like a madman before it had even started.

In my own life I am sure that I have benefitted from a touch of madness. Both in the music I make and the online work that I do.

  • In music, madness gave me a unique perspective from which to write. Many people said they could “see my soul” when I sang. I believe this is because that’s what was happening. I wasn’t singing catchy hooks, I was singing to save myself from the battles going on inside my soul. So when I sang, that stuff came out.
  • In online marketing my anti-social, introverted personality allowed me to work for months on end and accomplish things more quickly than a “normal” person who would have spent half their time out in public with friends. I literally worked for 2 years straight without stopping.

It’s not just me.

Since the time of the Greek philosophers, those who wrote about the creative process have emphasized that high levels of creativity normally involve a regression to a more primitive mental processes.

That to be creative requires a willingness to cross the line between rational and irrational thought.

robin-williams-rip

Robin Williams

Yesterday, one of the world’s greatest comedians and actors was found dead in his California home, allegedly as the result of suicide.

Robin Williams’ epic career spanned 40 years and included gigantic roles all the way from ‘Mork’ on ‘Mork and Mindy’ in the 70’s to his latest TV show ‘The Crazy Ones’ which was just taken off the air in 2014. He’s been funny, successful, beloved, rich and famous for a long time.

It has been said that he battled depression and addiction just as long.

He was known for his mad-cap antics. His energy level on talk show appearances were like no one else on earth. For a long time I thought he must be doing cocaine before coming out to the do show, but now it seems his craziness could have been a result of bi-polar disorder and manic depression.

And he’s not alone, while most studies between madness and creativity have focused on poets, musicians and visual artists some new studies have been done on comedians that show a connection as well.

The ability to make people laugh comes from a personality of the kind displayed by those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Researchers from Oxford University and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust say manic thinking helps join together ridiculous ideas that spark humor.

One interesting theory is that for comedians, making people laugh may be a way to self-medicate their own low mood.

Crazy Funny

Gordon Claridge, a professor at the University of Oxford, led a study on comedians. After gathering the results he said: ‘Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’.

So in other words, if you’re seriously schizophrenic you’re just f#cking nuts – but if you’re just a “little schizophrenic” you could become a highly talented artist or comedian.

Prof Claridge, with colleagues Victoria Ando and Ken Clark, persuaded 523 comedians – 404 men and 119 women – to take part in their study.

Comedians scored significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits compared with the general group.

Most striking was their high scores for both extraverted, manic-like responses and socially introverted moodiness, says a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Do You Have To Be Crazy To Be Creative?

There are obviously many talented artists of all kinds who do not do their work while manic or on the edge of insanity. Most researchers that have studied the subject agree that you don’t have to be crazy to be good.

Yet ideas are plenty as to why the link seems to be there so much of the time.

One idea is that the gene that causes mental disorder also produces artists, because manic depressive episodes create unique brain activities that trigger extreme swings of emotion, which the brain has to adapt to.

That process of adaptation, the reorganizing of manic thoughts – could be the essence of creativity itself.

Conclusion

While depression, bi-polar and a touch of madness have been found in many of the world’s greatest artists, it’s not mandatory that you be insane to be good – however it does seem to “help”.

But this is no excuse to jump off a building because “I’m an artist”.

If you feel that your mental health or depression is a problem for you – do something about it. Whether you use professional help, friends and family members, medications or lifestyle changes, do what you need to do to ensure that you’re stable and not a threat to yourself or others.

I have battled with depression my entire life and there have been many suicides in my family. But these days I have it under control better than ever before. I’m nowhere near normal, but I’m manageable.

To read more about how I changed my life, read this article.

If you’re a little bit nuts, congratulations and I’m sorry. You’ve got a long road ahead of you, but if you live – you may do amazing things.

And to Robin Williams, thanks for all the laughs dude. Nanu-Nanu.

Sources:

  1. New York Times: Exploring Artistic Creativity And Its Link to Madness
  2. Daily Mail UK: Why comedians ARE a little bit mad
  3. Davidson Institute for Talent Development: Creativity, the arts, and madness
  • Cody Bailey

    “That process of adaptation, the reorganizing of manic thoughts – could be the essence of creativity itself.” i agree with this sentence 400% percent.

    man, there’s so much i want to say about his article, but i cant because it was all said already. very well written.

    i used to tell my mom, a nurse, who was well educated about “depression” , that it was total bullshit…. some made up shit so you could get Xanax.. my take was ” shit, i hate being broke, or lonely at times, , i get depressed, but fuck, just hang in there until it passes and then smile, man up, whatever…. but eventually i learned, for some people, it is NOT controllable…..

    . i just cant understand how you can have success on a huge level, LOVED BY MILLIONS, financially stable as shit, knowing you can put your grandkids’ grandkids through college, send your dog to the moon for a vacation, and sit back on your free-range penguin skin couch looking at all your Emmys on your mantle and want to kill yourself……… again….. i have learned for some, its fuckin real…….

    and i just dont get it….. i dont….. being an artist has saved me so many times, having the outlet of the pen and paper instead of the bullet, having the reaction from people making my ego or confidence grow, making people smile or cry from simply hearing something I’ve done………but there also times i have stood on top of a skyscraper in Miami wondering what my body would sound like when it hit the ground…….but somehow i knew i wasn’t serious.. i KNEW i couldn’t. BUT, i wanted to feel it….. ( see, crazy artist) For some reason , and this sound fucked up, but when i went to dark places from time to time, i knew i was ONLY doing it to breathe in those feelings on purpose so i could write better as an artist ….like i dipped a foot into hell just to feel how hot it was….daring it to grab ahold.…so i could go back and tell people what that shit was like….or to try to feel what these depressed or suicidal people felt. to nicely exploit it? does that make me a dick? an adventurer? a warped altruist? to understand those people so maybe i could write something they could identify with?

    ok, now I’m probably making no sense what so ever now. then again, I’m one of those people you described. except, i could never take my own life, now matter how depressed i was….. nor would i ever become a slave to drugs to “help” it. just……live, man…… fuck….

    i don’t know. the mind is a terrible thing.
    thanks for your article, it was a great read as i travel down this lonesome New Mexico highway listening to outlaw songs from 1954. Love, Looney Tunes.

    “Sometimes you have to go insane to out sane the sane” – Mordecai

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah man. Prescribing Xanax for depression is like putting a guy in a coma to help with the pain of a broken leg.

      great Mordecai quote by the way, wow.

      • Cody Bailey

        man… speaking of quotes. HAHAHA “Prescribing Xanax for depression is like putting a guy in a coma to help with the pain of a broken leg”. – Malan Darras……nailed it. i must post that somewhere. lol

        • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

          haha thanks. @copyright2014

  • Charlie

    Write a ‘post’? This ain’t a post..this is more like a helpful TIMELY in-depth report! That’s why I fux with Malan Darras! You’re updates can be so therapeutic (and gut wrenching) I gotta read it twice. I guess only someone who battled some serious demons in his past can pen stuff like this. You’re the only internet marketing blogger I know that discusses important matters of soul like that. I’m more the moody introverted type. I remember a few years ago when I was battling this serious addiction. It was almost like crack. (although I never took drugs). It was and still is called “the Shinny Product Syndrome”. I don’t think I knew I had this disease back then until an honest internet marketing ‘guru’ finally talked some sense into me. These other gurus out there know if they tell you how tough internet marketing can be you’re not going to buy their shity products. So between my despised 9 to 5, “failing” at affiliate marketing by jumping from one shity course to the next, having no success, no girlfriend, social life in the toilet, not even seeing the sun and living in my moms basement, feeling like the biggest loser in the world…after 3 years of this shit I really had ENOUGH of this life. Didn’t have the guts to hang myself like Robin williams did. But I did ask God many times to come and take me however method he chose. I really believed it was going to take me 6 months tops to become an internet millionaire and then move to the cayman islands (lol). When I began realized all the time wasted and what it took to make it I nearly lost it. Then one day totally zoned out and depressed comin out of work I crossed the boulevard on the red light without being aware of it and almost got hit by a car. I could see the red light, I could hear the sound of an engine approaching. The passenger cursed me out as the driver sped away from like a foot and a half from me. That’s when kinda snapped out of it like a day later. I realized I needed a change. Introversion and the ‘failures’ that comes along with internet marketing can be a dangerous thing if you let it. As i’m writing this they telling us on CNN that Williams was depressed most of his life. Had substance abuse issues. Heart surgery. And got a show canceled. When bad things starts stackin’ up that when you feel you reach the end I guess. Like Cody up there I never consulted a shrink or anything like that. Maybe it was my ego. Or maybe the guys in that car sent me a message from God. I don’t know. I just wrote a honest list of the few things I needed to change. Like focusing on one f#cking traffic source. One f#cking business model instead of jumping from one hit to the next. And actually get myself to pick up the phone when my friends are calling. Get out in sun and walk pass other human being and hit the gym. Since learning about the Williams news I get the feeling LOTS of people are suffering from depression out there. Many of them look ‘happy’ and are smiling all the time. I just hope his suicide will not encourage people going thru a ruff patch to think that’s the best way to go.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      wild story Charlie, glad to hear you made it out alive… – Malan

  • Tammy Brasier

    Beautifully and insightfully written…

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      hey Tammy thanks for stopping by and reading.

  • http://wikimediamarketing.com Luis Barrios

    Thanks for the post!
    Now a lot of things are more clear to me.

  • nightowwl

    I was a happy introvert at peace with myself and the world around me. Until I was told there was something wrong with me because I preferred my own company over anyone else. And I can say from personal experience, that trying to live a life based on society’s rigid rules is enough to drive anyone to drink or worse.

    We aren’t depressed because of who we are, we are depressed because we aren’t valued and accepted for who we are.

    As for madness? Take a good look at the world around you. We are not the ones who are insane.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      nightowl, i’m with you http://www.malandarras.com/introvert

      • nightowwl

        ‘All I wanted to do was go home and enjoy the quiet, where I felt most comfortable.’ How well I know this feeling.

        I’m glad we made it through relatively undamaged, but I think many introverts still suffer terribly. The negative hype is still strong and persuasive – and up until a few months ago I still believed I was the one lacking. Seeing through that belief is extremely liberating, but the ones who can’t suffer immensely.

        A rash of suicides. All described as sensitive, creative, gentle souls. All young, beautiful and dead.

        Gia Allemand (29)
        Lee Thompson Young (29)
        Joshua Marks (26)
        Cory Monteith* (31)
        Amy Winehouse* (26)

        *not officially suicides, but they slowly killed themselves with alcohol.

        They couldn’t make it in a world where pointless talk is valued over silence; where one must be ‘on’ 24/7; where mediocrity is the norm; where differences are feared rather than celebrated; where judgement is a way of life.

        The people who add value to this world are the ones at greatest risk, and this makes me very sad.

  • http://joegaines.com/ Joe

    Just catching up with this post now… Brilliant stuff Malan! I’ve often wondered whether the “crazy creative” type was actually a pattern or just an excuse by us “outsiders” to glamorize dysfunction. Fascinating read and very enlightening!