It’s reasonably well known that highly creative people are often more susceptible to mood swings than average folk, and in some cases they suffer significantly with bouts of anxiety, depression and episodes of unsociable behaviour. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but despite the studies that continue to be carried out in this field, a comprehensive explanation has yet to be put forward.
I’m not a psychologist or a doctor, but I have noticed that people who exhibit the extraordinary gifts of creativity and intellect regularly identify in themselves this tendency toward ‘dark nights’ of their creative soul. For many, ‘doing life’ is in itself a struggle and they are reduced to a survival mentality instead of enjoying a happy and balanced emotional stability that allows them to revel freely in their talents.
I am curious, I am intrigued and I am extremely interested in exploring what lies at the heart of this phenomenon.
Could it be that as a society we have reduced creative behaviour to unrealistic expectations of what is acceptable and unacceptable?
Is there no longer a place in our 21st-century world for the eccentric personalities, the jokers, the outlandish, the melancholy, the bizarre, the colourful?
Are we forcing our artists to reduce themselves to beige? Have we restricted our creative souls so much that they are now imprisoned within themselves, to suffer alone under the label of being too different, too sensitive, too outrageous, too radical, too moody, too precious? Are we too quick to dismiss our creatives as being nothing more than ‘temperamental artists’?
A person’s resistance to the opinions of others varies from individual to individual, but it’s inevitable that if someone is criticized consistently enough, they will start to wonder whether their detractors might be right. This means that labelling an artist can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing their self-esteem to implode and resulting in their struggle for recognition gradually taking on the gravity of mental illness.
By saying this, I don’t mean to suggest that mood-related disorders are the exclusive domain of creative artists: mental illness affects people in all walks of life. However, I do wonder whether the prevalence of mental anguish isn’t higher than average among people who create for a living.
I know creative people who are making a handsome income by utilizing their gifts and abilities, but 9 times out of 10, these successful, talented people struggle with issues of self-worth, fear of rejection, fear of failure and more serious mental health problems.
Is it any wonder creative people feel different? Is it any wonder they struggle to be accepted and considered worthy? Their way of being in the world does not toe the party line – it cannot!
Creative souls need space, they need time, they need to get into creative flow – they cannot be boxed into fixed timetables and schedules.
Every major act of creativity is a birthing, a labour of love. Every piece of art, every performance, every design, every song, every poem, every painting is a physical manifestation of the artist’s very self. It necessitates giving, giving and giving until the creation is born. Can you imagine how much energy is required to keep on giving?
Unless you identify as a creative person yourself, it’s quite possible you have no concept of how much life is poured into every act of creation. Even those who are close to creative people often fail to notice how much of their heart and soul they invest in what they create – and that lack of recognition can be very hurtful. To rub salt into the wound, artists are often expected to give away their work for free or accept payment that is well below their output or true value.
How many jobs expect a new staff member to do an unpaid trial for 3 months (read ‘internship’)? How many workers are expected to do numerous free modifications, free rehearsals, or to work for ‘exposure’? Imagine if a different industry – for example, construction – demanded that new employees must labour without pay for a quarter of a year. All building work would probably cease! Is the work of creative professionals really that much less valuable?
I hang my head in shame as I reflect on the culture of exploiting creative people and taking them for granted. All too often, creative pursuits are seen as pastimes, hobbies or recreation, invalidating their worthiness and importance.
Our world would be a very boring place, void of art, music, drama and inspiration if it wasn’t for the beauty that floods like sunlight into our lives through the windows of all forms of creativity.
It’s time for those of us who enjoy the labours of our creative brothers and sisters, to say yes to eccentricity, yes to difference, yes to the jokers and playmakers, and show compassion and understanding toward those who struggle with doing ‘regular’ life, which a multitude of creatives consider to be too confining, too pedestrian and way too mundane.
I think it’s time for us to re-examine how judgemental we can be as a society, to stop criticizing what we don’t quite understand, and to celebrate the wonder, the depth, the sensitivity of our ‘moody’ artists. Without them, our lives would be a mere shadow of what they are now. Let’s give them space, respect, and acknowledgement that they need to birth their next extraordinary creative contribution to the world.
Monica O’Brien is a professionally trained and accredited Coach and founder of Creative Edge Coaching www.creativeedgecoaching.com.au. She blogs on issues about creativity and small business development for conscious artists and business entrepreneurs.