Creativity and Depression – Is there a link? One Man’s Viewpoint

July 19, 2010

In a recent discussion with my coaching client Gail’s husband about creativity  some interesting ideas began to emerge.  (Both Gail and her husband have given me permission to blog about this.)   Our discussion began when  I  was curious about what his definition of creativity was.  He said in a very certain tone of  voice without any hesitation, “It’s PLAYFULNESS. ”    I had no idea at the beginning of our conversation that we would soon be talking about creative blocks , depression and why he has difficulty beginning to commit to his deeply treasured buried dream of writing a memoir.   Soon after he shared that with me he let me in on  his style of communicating that he called “birdwalking”.  He said he knows that  he jumps around like a sparrow.  He added, “to me there is creativity in that.”    I asked him to tell me more about this memoir he wants to write about but has not actually ever started.  He  replied, “I’d like to write something that would crystallize the lessons of my own life in a way that could last.”

I then asked, “So what gets in the way?” He shared that it is partly his perfectionism and partly his pattern of getting easily distracted.  He then reflected and added that the single most difficult obstacle was  his life-long struggle with chronic depression that began in adolescence.  He does not think people are creative when they are depressed. He gave Van Gogh as an example – he did not paint when he was depressed, but when he was in recovery,  even while in an insane asylum. He does,  however, feel there may be a  link for those who suffer from manic depression, because some people claim they do their best work while in the manic phase.

I did want to probe further what stopped him. “Well, it becomes hard work to actually start to write a memoir.  So you lose the playfulness.”

For the time being  our conversation is on pause.  I am very interested in trying to understand the relationship between the desire to be playful and the necessity of engaging in a discplined ritual if one wants to actually commit to writing (or any creative endeavor).

Work of Art

July 2, 2010

by Deborah Atherton

I know not everyone who reads this blog has had the opportunity to see Work of Art, the new Bravo reality TV show, yet – it’s not in every country our readership is in, and I’m not sure how available it is on the Web.  But if you get a chance, take a look .  The premise is much like that of Project Runway – lock a bunch of artists up together, give them a number of short-term challenges, and eliminate one (or two) a week until you are down to what is in theory the crème de la crème.  It’s certainly not an optimal way to produce art or evaluate artists, but I find myself looking forward to it and watching it with real enthusiasm.

Why? Well, first and foremost, it’s just fun to watch artists at work.  You will often find me in the corner of a painter’s studio, anyway, watching him or her lay on the oils, or perhaps peering over a portraitist’s shoulder while they are capturing their subject.  But this is kind of like getting three scoops of ice cream when you’ve only ordered a cup–you get to watch a whole room full of artists go to it.   And unlike other reality show contestants, who tend to complain about what they DON’T have to work with (“What? no black truffles? How can I possibly complete my entree?” or “They’ve run out of ivory beads? Will I have to use. . .plastic?) these artists, presented with an enormous studio full of materials, are like kids in a candy store, running from the clay to the video cameras and bouncing all the way.  And they seem almost as excited about having a roof over their heads and three meals a day as they are about the free materials.

Being artists, they seem semi-oblivious to their surroundings, which is also a refreshing change on a reality show.  The competitive edge and the jockeying for the camera’s attention is there, oh yes, but they seem to spend a lot of time posing for each other, critiquing each other, and trying to get the equipment to work right together.  Even amidst the silliness of this weeks challenge to create “shocking” art the joy in the actual creating seemed pretty evident.

Of course, it is a reality show, so editing is king, and who knows what the reality is or was–but as I say, fun to watch and get a glimpse of artists and their works in progress.  And you can’t always be creating new work of your own – sometimes it is nice to take a break and watch other people doing it!