Some of the greatest artists and critical thinkers suffered from some form of mental illness. This common denominator can lead one to believe that either a broken mind is necessary or caused by extravagant thought. I prefer to think it is the former that allows someone to step outside the box and rise above the doldrums.
Nikola Tesla suffered from OCD and phobias, Abraham Lincoln had anxiety disorder, Jackson Pollock is suspected of suffering bi-polar disorder on top of his alcoholism, and Ernest Hemingway battled depression, just to name a few. Each of these people were pioneers in their chosen field. They all held the capacity for critical thought outside the norm of society and accepted tropes. History remembers them for their accomplishments, but it is the underlying current of their disease that helped shape them and give them the power to achieve.
One could very well argue that Pollock’s paintings were a direct result of the way his brain filtered the world into his psyche, that Hemingway’s choice of words and writing style was influenced by his depression, and that even Lincoln’s tact as a leader was enhanced by his anxiety. Still, it is uncomfortable to think of how these gifts they all had was so heavily marred by the burdens they carried.
So, is it the illness that makes them great, is it the broken mind that makes art possible?
I’ve always been told I wasn’t right in the head, that my way of thinking was wrong. As a teenager, my peers always asked me what drugs I was on because of my unusual behavior. Of course, the blame for the odd behavior and eccentricities always fell upon the unique environment of my upbringing. After all, having parents from two separate generations and polar opposite familial structures does carry a heavy influence on one’s surroundings.
It is such a landscape from which much of my art pours forth. When people ask me what my life is like, I always say, “it has been very interesting.” After all, do they really want to know of the hate and anger and frustration and confusion and out right fear that trembles under the surface of the face I show the world or do they merely wish to enjoy my imagination?
Whatever circuit that is shorted out or whichever wire is disconnected in my head, it has helped to shape me. It has carried me to the edge of my life and allowed me to look over into the abyss and back; to step outside the box and think the thoughts no one has thought before.
Soon, I am going to get a psych evaluation done. This is because of the severity in which my condition has recently effected my life. Part of me worries about how ‘knowing’ what is wrong might affect me. Part of me is concerned with the idea of confirming that something is wrong. While in a whole, my thoughts journey back to the idea of what change this could have on my art and how I see the world.
So, is the mental illness a cause or side-effect of an artistic mind?