Inspired by conversations with Leslie Shellow and Marsha Lynn. (And Sangria)
The connection between madness/manic depression/obsessive compulsive disorder and art is undeniable and fascinating. But just as much as madness creates art, I believe art creates madness.
Madness can develop as a result of the artistic process. The pattern of art-making can be extremely damaging; It begins with obsessive thinking, rolling an idea around and around in order to solve a problem, followed by moments of sublime manic inspiration and the struggle of creation, and the hours and hours spent alone in the studio. The rush of installation and exhibitions and fanfare and the deep, dark pits of rejection and feelings of hopelessness and despair. This whole cycle of ups and downs repeats with the development of each new body of work and is very similar to the waves of manic-depression and schizophrenia.
When you choose to become an artist you open up your senses in a way that can’t be undone. You take in everything seeking inspiration. But this can make very ordinary errands unbearable: a trip to the mall or the supermarket can be sensory overload, movie theaters become a torturous cacophany of coughing and popcorn-crunching. New York City requires lots of mental preparation in order to be able to handle the herds of people, the noise, and the fast pace. I believe that this hyper-sensitivity to surroundings is very similar to milder forms of autism. This occurred to me after reading, and identifying with, Temple Grandin’s masterpiece “Thinking In Pictures” (HBO has just made a movie about her which, I’ve heard, is AMAZING and I look forward to watching it.)
Artists possess an enormous energy that needs to be directed carefully or the intensity of that power can make a person crazy. If not directed towards creation, all of that intensity and energy gets misplaced and an artist can drown in thought, or obsess excessively about other aspects of their life.
You never know what will cause a rush of inspiration; lectures, long car drives, movies cause my brain to speed up with the rhythm of the passing landscape or the lecturers’ voice and I thrash around in my purse for a scrap of paper to scribble down my new grand idea or solution to a problem. I’ve gotten really good at writing in the dark. But God forbid you pull the car over or leave the lecture because the thoughts will vanish.
So as a result of these new findings, I’d like to add to the annals of psychology a new mental illness:
Artism = a type of madness caused by the artistic process. Similar to autism, where one’s hyper-sensitive experience of the external world causes overwhelming shifts in one’s internal state of being. In some extreme cases, the very demanding and extreme cycle of the artistic process can develop into manic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or schizophrenia. The only way to keep this madness from taking over seems to be the continuation of art-making.