Artistic creativity and bipolar mood disorder
Janka Z.
Szegedi Tudományegyetem, Szent-Györgyi Albert Orvos- es Gyógyszerésztudományi Centrum,
Altalános Orvostudományi Kar, Pszichiátriai Klinika.
Orv Hetil. 2004 Aug 15;145(33):1709-18.


BACKGROUND: Several studies and theories propose a connection between psychopathology and artistic creativity i.e. madness and genius characters share common roots. OBJECTIVE: Employing scientific research data, the objective of this review is to elucidate the frequency of psychopathological alterations among writers and artists and to analyse the possible influence of bipolar mood disorder spectrum on the artistic creativity. METHOD: Reviewing studies a) on retrospective investigations, based on biographies of famous persons with high creative achievements, b) on psychiatric examinations of living writers and artists, c) on individual examples of geniuses in the light of their mental status and work output correlations, and d) on creative traits and skills of diagnosed psychiatric patient populations. RESULTS: Beyond the practical experiences and impressions being held for ages from ancient times, the scientific observations and surveys indicate that psychopathological symptoms, especially those belonging to the bipolar mood disorder (bipolar I and II), major depression and cyclothymia categories occur more frequently among writers, poets, visual artists and composers, compared to the rates in the general population. Self-reports of writers and artists describe symptoms in their intensively creative periods which are reminiscent and characteristic of hypomanic states. Further, cognitive styles of hypomania (e.g. overinclusive thinking, richness of associations) and originality-prone creativity share many common as indicated by several authors. Among the eminent artists showing most probably manic-depressive or cyclothymic symptoms were: E. Dickinson, E. Hemingway, N. Gogol, A. Strindberg, V. Woolf, Lord Byron (G. Gordon), J. W. Goethe, V. van Gogh, F. Goya, G. Donizetti, G. F. Händel, O. Klemperer, G. Mahler, R. Schumann, and H. Wolf. Based on biographies and other studies, brief descriptions are given in the present article on the personality character of Gogol; Strindberg, Van Gogh, Händel, Klemperer, Mahler, and Schumann. Further example is the enigmatic silence and withdrawal from opera composing of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), which is still a matter of various theories and explanations. Until his life of 37 years he composed 39 operas and lived almost another 40 years without composing any new one. Biographies show that severe depressive sufferings played a role in that withdrawal and silence, while in his juvenile years most probably hypomanic personality traits contributed to the extreme achievements and very fast composing techniques. Analysing the available biographies of Rossini and the character of music he composed (e.g. opera buffa, Rossini crescendo) strongly suggests the medical diagnosis of a bipolar affective illness. CONCLUSION: Comparing to the general population, bipolar mood disorder is highly overrepresented among writers and artists. The cognitive and other psychological features of artistic creativity resemble many aspects of the hypomanic symptomatology. It may be concluded that bipolar mood traits might contribute to highly creative achievements in the field of art. At the same time, considering the risks, the need of an increased medical care is required.
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