Creativity is a fascinating and important subject for anyone to study. Understanding how people tap into their creative powers and why some are better than others is quite interesting. Nancy C. Andreasen is a very qualified person to address this topic. In addition to a PhD in English literature, she later switched careers and earned an MD with a residency in psychiatry. In the current edition of The Atlantic, Andreasen writes on “Secrets of the Creative Brain” (July/August 2014, pp. 62–75).
I have devoted the last two weeks of blog posts to the powerful and insightful concepts Andreasen brings to our attention. Today, I offer my closing thoughts on the article. (For my prior blog posts in this series, see Blog.reliableinsights.com, 8/4/14 through 8/14/14.)
Throughout her article, Andreasen challenges us with the linkages between creativity and mental illness. Obviously, she does not do this in a derogatory or chiding fashion. Rather, it is a thoughtful scientist’s reflection on the collective body of research, observations, creative people’s experiences, and her own direct research. Her objective has been to examine the evidence to derive conclusions, relationships, and dynamics about creativity.
The content of Andreasen’s article is among the most interesting I have ever read. Although many aspects of creativity are explored within this article, I think the most fascinating has been this relationship between creativity and mental illness. Her proposal is a brilliant expression of exactly what happens on a broader scale with all creative people. It is so important to realize that as people, we are not a collection of ones and zeroes, on and off switches. Rather, we are all uniquely cast upon an immense array of continuums of every possible human trait and nuance. That is all part of the amazingly complex way in which we are designed.
With this understanding, we should all immediately have a heightened respect and appreciation for who we are as people and as individuals. This should be true not just on the basis of our amazing complexity and robustness, but equally on the basis of our fragility.
Many have seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, in which the creative genius and mental illness of John Nash are poignantly examined. It is a captivating and heartbreaking story. Perhaps all creative people are John Nashes. It may be only a matter of degree.
I am not saying all creative people are mentally ill. Nor am I saying all mentally ill people are creative. I am saying that we are learning so much more in recent years about creativity and about mental illness. We are also learning so much more about how, when, where, and why they sometimes overlap. That confluence promises to take us further in our understanding than we have ever gone. And on that note, I end this blog post with Andreasen’s poetic and potent words that she chose for her article’s final paragraph:
“Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them creative geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill. And some people, like John Nash, are both.” (p. 75)