Can mood disorders such as bipolar depression that are part of the lives of so many people, have any positive impact on creativity?
In an interview, Dalio made some interesting comments about his own mental health and creative inspiration:
“David Lynch was actually the one who first inspired me to become a filmmaker when I was in high school. His films just took me to that dream place that lifts you out of the norm, out of the everyday life, and that is kind of what allured me.
“I wonder if the insanity in me lingering beneath the surface was drawn to that. When I worked for his foundation, I got very much into meditation and tapping into the unconscious.
“Fellini was Lynch’s master and his biggest idol, and he believed in Fellini’s view that film is a dream, it’s not reality. It’s all about delving into the unconscious.”
From Magic Without Mania: Paul Dalio and Luke Kirby on “Touched With Fire” by Matt Fagerholm, RogerEbert.com February 9, 2016.
Touched With Fire Official Trailer
In another review of the movie, Stephen Holden writes:
“The manic phase of a bipolar cycle often produces a sense of omnipotence and infinite possibility that can feel so wonderfully exciting that patients often stop taking their medication. “Touched With Fire” only tangentially deals with the depressive phase, when a patient can become catatonic and suicidal.
“Mr. Dalio, who has written about his own personal struggles with bipolar disorder, has directed a film that flirts with madness (some would say dangerously) while not going over the edge.
“For a time, it almost seduces you into taking seriously the couple’s shared delusions. Any creative person who has had what might be a brainstorm, when the emotions veer into overdrive, and the mind and metabolism suddenly race, will understand the exalted, scary place in which Marco and Carla find themselves.
“The movie is inspired by Kay Redfield Jamison’s 1993 book, ‘Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.’ Marco and Carla visit Ms. Jamison in the movie, and she reassures them that taking lithium hasn’t diminished her creativity.
“Although awkward, this scene, shoehorned into the film to be reassuring, crucially tilts a movie that might otherwise be misinterpreted as an invitation to embrace madness in the direction of medical common sense.”
From Review: ‘Touched With Fire,’ a Love Story Between Two Bipolar Poets, New York Times Feb. 11, 2016.
Movie: Touched With Fire with Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Paul Dalio (Director) DVD & Blu-ray
In his essay Touched With Fire, Paul Dalio writes about the ongoing stigma of mental illness:
“I’m a filmmaker, husband of my NYU film school classmate, father of two children and bipolar. Of these labels, the one I’m certain stands out in your mind is bipolar — and not in a good way.
“That’s no fault of your own, since you probably don’t know much about it other than what you’ve heard. I’m either right about this assumption or wrong about it. But either way, I’m certain of it because of my past experiences with the stigma that surrounds it.
“So how do I deal with this label? I could remove the “I am” part to avoid it defining me and just say “I have” in which case I would have to add the word “disorder” to “bipolar,” which isn’t exactly the ideal fix.
“I could say I have a mental illness or am manic-depressive. But other than that, what label do I have to choose from that’s not a disorder, disease, illness or defect in my humanity?”
Paul Dalio on being proud to be bipolar (Feb. 4, 2016) | Charlie Rose
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The Mad Genius mythology
“To assume, then, that such diseases usually promote artistic talent wrongly reinforces simplistic notions of the ‘mad genius.’” Kay Redfield Jamison
In an interview for NPR radio, science writer Jonah Lehrer commented, “One of the surprising things that’s emerged from the study of moods…is that putting [people] in a bad mood — making them a little bit sad or melancholy — comes with some cognitive benefits.
“So sadness, although it is not fun and is not pleasant, it does sharpen the mind a little bit… people suffering from various kinds of depression [may have increased] creative output.”
Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD is Co-Director of the Mood Disorders Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
She has used Lithium to manage her own bipolar depression, and notes in her book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament that the majority of people suffering from mood disorders do not possess extraordinary imagination, and most accomplished artists do not suffer from recurring mood swings.
But, she adds, “All the same, recent studies indicate that a high number of established artists – far more than could be expected by chance – meet the diagnostic criteria for manic-depression or major depression…”
Not everyone agrees with the kinds of statements that Jamison and others make about a correlation between creativity and mood disorders.
Continued: Can Mood Swings Enhance Our Creativity?
Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., addresses this topic in a post:
“I do believe that If the mental processes associated with psychosis were evaporated entirely from this world, art would suck. But so would a lot of other things that require imagination.”
He notes that psychosis is on a continuum:
“Too much psychosis and one is at high risk of going mad. But everyone engages in psychosis-related thought any time they use their imagination. This type of thought activates particular regions of the brain and is especially prominent while day-dreaming and night-dreaming.”
He thinks that without the “ability to transcend immediate reality, art would lose its creativity. Far from insulting artists, I think it makes us appreciate artists even more, and their ability to show us worlds that many not exist yet, but are possible.”
He asks, “So is extreme, debilitating psychosis a prerequisite for art? Absolutely not. Severe mental illness is nothing to take lightly, and can make it very difficult to produce art.”
Read much more in my post:
Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?
Book: Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire.
This topic of mental health / illness and creative people is of deep personal interest (partly because I have experienced some degree of depression and anxiety most of my life) – and there are many related posts on my network of sites, as well as my Facebook pages, especially Emotional Health and Creativity.