Today, on CBC

They’re discussing whether artists are lunatics or not. One professor has proven many great artists had mental health issues: he’s trying to show causality.

Are artists creative because they’re nuts? Or nuts because they’re creative?

Here’s my take on it: creativity isn’t crazy-making. But it can ask for behaviours not inherent to the artist.

The number of writers of creative materials I know: around 30.

The number of those that are hard-nosed business persons, who have high risk tolerance and love self-promotion and are good salespersons and have enough inbuilt self-love to not care with serious critique or changed goalposts… maybe 2.

Risk-taking is insecurity, and insecurity can be crazy making. Writing is a lot of work with little chance of payoff. Even WITH payoff – because I probably know more paid-off authors than most – it’s still work, monetary risk, rejection stress, no obvious ladder, no clear entry point and vague attainment levels. Even the ones who “make it” are steeping in a stew of many cultural bosses and no clear goalposts towards ‘mastery’.

There is situational depression to be confronted in these attributes, if you’re working hard. Square pegs in round holes.

So what happens when your drive to create and be heard, your urge to share something you think is missing, is greater than your own self preservation regarding the stressors of the attempt?

Yeah, I think probably artistic sorts have a tendency to struggle… but it’s not the avocation, it’s the profession.


  1. This sounds totally, exactly right: that the writing life (full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid) would create situational stress. The writer I know who seems to most genuinely love it has all those qualities you list, and yeah, most people (never mind most writers) don’t.

    I mean, every job that I know of involves some tasks that most people drawn to that career would rather not do (most teachers hate grading; most librarians would prefer not to spend their days showing people how to use the printer). But I think the contrast between what pulls people to write, and what actual writers have to do, is particularly stark.

  2. Exactly.

    And there are for many writers years of labouring in obscurity without any particular known endpoint.If you want to be a surgeon, there’s a clear career path and clear signposts for acceptance. You’re a surgeon, or not a surgeon. Done.

    But no two writers take the same path, and you can have a house papered in rejections and not have it mean anything about your long term potential.

  3. Not thinking as a writer here, but every year in Photo-a-day, we get the n0ob shot from someone who has gone outside of her comfort zone to take a photo. Sometimes it’s just a shot in public. Sometimes it’s a balance-out-on-a-limb shot where she could have fallen to her death. Sometimes it’s getting close to wildlife or even a shot of something goopy.

    The person always says that “I never would have tried for this shot without being in photo-a-day”. She showed behaviour that was ‘out of the norm’ to get the shot, which seems to indicate that the art pushes us to be ‘lunatic’, or at least, Other.

    I don’t think that’s the case. I think the idea of artistic insanity is a sliding scale, and sometimes, those of us who create things go farther along the scale than others may feel comfortable with. I’ll scream at pigeons to get a shot of blurred wings in motion. I won’t stop-motion and make a video of a decomposing sheep’s head.

  4. So it pushes us to our own outside boundaries but not past? That makes sense to me.

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