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Great wits and madness: More near allied?

  • Kay Redfield Jamison (a1)

Summary

A purported association between creativity and psychopathology is ancient, persistent and controversial. Biographical research, studies of living artists and writers, and investigations into the cognitive and temperamental factors linked to both creativity and mood disorders suggest a more specific link to bipolar illness. A new, large and well-designed population-based study adds further support to this connection.

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References

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Great wits and madness: More near allied?

  • Kay Redfield Jamison (a1)
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eLetters

Art and Schizophrenia: more near allied?

Jonathan M. Hurlow, ST5 Specialist Registrar in Forensic Psychiatry
16 November 2011

Dear Professor Jamison,

Thank you for your work in this field and an impressive summary of evidence for possible associations between mental disorder and creativity (1). Whilst the psychotic disorders held up as potential contributory factors for creativity are clearly defined, I am not entirely sure how creativity itself is being delineated. Personally I favour Boden's suggestion that creativity confers both value and novelty (2). Whilst a writer and a painter may both be creative according to this definition, their creativity may involve very different underpinning mechanisms. This holds particular importance when we consider our Swedish authors' suggestion that schizophrenia associated creativity may differ from bipolar associated creativity (3).

The most striking finding of this latest research is that people withschizophrenia appear to be more likely to be involved in occupations deemed artistic and that their close relatives undertake more creative employment than most Swedish people. Perhaps this is because they excel better in non-literary artistic careers such as painting, which until now were not studied in sufficiently large numbers. Whilst I understand that many have made efforts to consider the mental disorder of non-literary creative people (4-8), the most reliable and valid findings associating enhanced creativity with psychiatric conditions has been Andreasen's studies of the Iowa writers group and the more recent population studies of scholastic achievement (8-9).

Given this, it might be useful to revisit exceptional non-literary creative people such as Turner Prize nominees in distinct studies similar to the way that Andreasen studied exceptional living writers. Alternatively at a population level we could consider similarly distinct, but less exceptional non-literary creative groups, like people who have uploaded their art onto indiscriminate websites such as Saatchi Online (11). This latest Nordic study may contribute to the modest body of evidence suggesting possible links between affective psychosis and literary creativity; however it is more novel and valuable when it indicates that different forms of creativity might be associated with schizophrenia.

1. Jamison K R, Great wits and madness: more near allied? Br J Psychiatry 2011; 199:351-352

2. Boden, M. What Is Creativity? Dimensions in Creativity. London: The MIT Press. 1994

3. Kyaga S, Lichtenstein P, Boman M, Hultman C, L?ngstr?m N, Land?n M. Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300 000 people with severe mental disorder. Br J Psychiatry 2011; 199: 373-9.

4. Jamison, K. R. & Goodwin, F. K. Creativity. Manic-Depressive Illness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007

5. Post, F. Creativity and psychopathology. A study of 291 world-famous men. British Journal of Psychiatry 1994; 165: 22-34.

6. McNeil, T. F. Prebirth and postbirth influence on the relationshipbetween creative ability and recorded mental illness. Journal of Personality 1971; 39: 391-406.

7. Nettle, D. Schizotypy and mental health amongst poets, visual artists, and mathematicians. Journal of Research in Personality 2011; 40: 876-90.

8. Sass, L. A. Schizophrenia, modernism, and the 'creative imagination': on creativity and psychopathology. Creativity Research Journal, 13: 55-74.

9. Andreasen, N. C. (1987). Creativity and mental illness: prevalencerates in writers and their first-degree relatives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144: 1288-92.

10. Hurlow, J, MacCabe, JH. Paradoxes in creativity and Psychiatric conditions. In: Kapur N, Pascual-Leone A, Ramachandran V (Eds) The Paradoxical Brain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011

11. Website http://www.saatchionline.com/upload/why

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Conflict of interest: None declared

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