I’ve always heard that in order to be an artist, you have to be a little crazy. Mozart was crazy. Van Gogh was crazy. Spike Milligan was crazy. Whether they are writers, painters, singers, actors, scientists — they tend to have the “artistic temperament” — which is merely the polite way of saying that they are a little crazy.
Now there’s a Swedish study that backs up the popular notion. It was done by the Karolinska institute looking at over 40 years worth of medical records on 1.2 million anonymous Swedes. Those folks with schizophrenia, anorexia, autism or bipolar disorder were more likely to be gifted creatively than the rest of Swedish society.
It could be that the results of this study only apply to Swedish creative types. But Sweden is a “typical” Western country in many respects.
Stephen Fry, in his award-winning BBC documentary, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, also pointed out that many of his show business acquaintances were bipolar or had major depression. He also said that a Hollywood producer once told him, “In order to make it, you don’t have to be gay or famous — just bipolar.”
Bipolar disorder seems to the mental illness that is most common in artists and scientists. Writers, though (such as yours truly) also could have depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse and still be considered creative. Unfortunately, writers were also 50% more likely to commit suicide. Or (in my case) attempt suicide and botch the job. Well — at least it gives me something to write about.
So — do you HAVE to be mentally ill in order to be creative? The study does not come to that conclusion. Besides — is it that you make art because you are crazy or the art itself that makes you crazy? More studies would need to be done to confirm that.
I’ve neer been so glad not to be Swedish.