For a long time, there has been some sort of relationship between the arts and mental distress. Many famous writers and painters have suffered from mental illnesses in their time, and the link is common. The question I find myself asking is: does the disorder cause the creativity or does the creativity cause the disorder? I don’t think there’s a straight answer to this, and I don’t think it’s a very good question to ask at all. In my opinion, if someone happens to be an emotionally sensitive person, for whatever reason, they are almost bound to have more mental struggle. However, with sensitivity can come great artwork, as it captures rawness and reality. I’m trying to keep that as vague as I can though, because I am very aware that not everyone with a mental illness enjoys art, and not everyone who enjoys art has a mental illness.
Here is a list of famous artists (including music and writing) who are said to have suffered from mental illness:
- Vincent Van Gogh. As most people know, Van Gogh was said to have suffered from various mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder with psychosis. He committed suicide at the age of 37, in 1890.
- Ludwig Van Beethoven. Similarly to Van Gogh, Beethoven is said to have suffered from bipolar disorder. He was also an extreme alcoholic, and died from liver disease.
- Sylvia Plath. Plath’s depression is very common knowledge, as she reflects on it in her book The Bell Jar, and many of her poems, the most famous being Lady Lazarus. She attempted suicide in 1953 and succeeded in a second attempt in 1963.
- Michelangelo. He was said to have had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Elton John. The famous musician suffered from bulimia, which went untreated for 16 years until he sought help.
- Virginia Woolf. The famous author also had bipolar disorder, leading to her suicide at the age of 59.
As you might be able to tell, I could go on for a while. Personally, I’m terrible at art, but (obviously) love writing, and also play a lot of music. Many people I know or have been friends with have experienced mental illness, and the majority of them are extremely talented in some section of the arts.
This is not to say that only artists can have mental illness, as I said before. There are a lot of famous scientists and mathematicians with speculated mental disorders, such as John Nash (see the book/film A Beautiful Mind), Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.” An extract from Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath.