Catalyst Dialogues (formerly dBs Dialogues) panel talk series at Catalyst Berlin

Myth of the Tortured Artist: a Conversation and Further Reading

Posted on 3/5/2018 in Catalyst

Journalist Anna Codrea-Rado recaps our dBs Dialogues (now Catalyst Dialogues) mental health panel talk on the myth of the tortured creative genius. Scroll down for the highlights and full video.

The tortured artist, suffering for their art, is a long romanticised image. For decades, the very question of where creativity has come from has answered with the theory of the “mad genius” – an idea that links creativity to mental health conditions. Historic figures such as Michelangelo, Lord Byron, and Vincent Van Gogh, renowned artists who all suffered from mental health conditions, have fuelled the theory. But how much truth is there to it; are creative people really more prone to mental health conditions, and does good art always come from a dark place?

The tortured artist, suffering for their art, is a long romanticised image. For decades, the very question of where creativity has come from has answered with the theory of the “mad genius” – an idea that links creativity to mental health conditions. Historic figures such as Michelangelo, Lord Byron, and Vincent Van Gogh, renowned artists who all suffered from mental health conditions, have fuelled the theory. But how much truth is there to it; are creative people really more prone to mental health conditions, and does good art always come from a dark place?

At a recent event at dBs Berlin [now Catalyst], part of the school’s ongoing Dialogues series, panellists gathered to bust the myth of the tortured creative genius. Facilitated by Rick Warden, an independent film producer and former Film Lead for the UK Mental Health Foundation, panellists Ellie Griffiths, Berlin-based producer and vocalist LAMIA; dBs Music [now Catalyst Music] student Isabella Pantoja; and Malachi Rempen, a filmmaker, author and tutor at dBs Film [now Catalyst Film] discussed the complex relationship between mental health and art.

"The panelists were in agreement that their best work is produced when they are healthy, both physically and mentally and that it is not necessary to suffer for one’s art"

The opening provocation, “Whatever the links between mental health and creativity, the healthier the person the better for their art”, struck right at the heart of the issue. The panelists addressed it by drawing on personal experiences with mental health issues in particular, anxiety, and spoke frankly about a subject that remains a challenge for the creative industries to address.

The panelists were in agreement that their best work is produced when they are healthy, both physically and mentally and that it is not necessary to suffer for one’s art. The panelists shared that while they have drawn on times of strife in their lives, often this happened with enough distance and after a period of reflection. There was agreement that good art doesn’t have to come out of a bad place and that the whole spectrum of human emotions are valid when creating art.

A key point raised was that often is not the suffering that creates the art, but rather the art-making process can often lead to suffering. This is especially true of the music industry, which often involves touring and long stretches of time isolated in the studio. In response, the panelists shared tips for how to stay healthy, such as exercise, meditation, rest and seeking professional help or therapy for mental health conditions.

Highlights

Resources

Books and articles about art and mental health

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness: Article on the Brainpickings website about the science behind the “tortured genius” myth and what it reveals about how the creative mind actually works.

The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius:Book by renowned psychiatrist Nancy Andreasen about how the brain produces creative breakthroughs in art

Are creative people more prone to psychological distress or is the ‘mad genius’ a myth? Article on the Conversation website about why neurotic unhappiness and creativity are often found in the same person

Online mental health resources

Mind: UK-based mental health charity, provides online resources

Healthline: US-based health information provider, has a good page on when and how to seek mental health advice (NB: some suggested services are in the US)

ACT Berlin: network of English speaking therapists and counselors in Berlin

Resources for artists

Help Line: started by Help Musicians, a leading UK charity for professional musicians of all genres

Self-care: books, articles and apps

Instant Motivation: Chantal Burns’ book about what really drives top performance

Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech: Inspiring lecture for those working in the arts

Headspace: Meditation and mindfulness app

Calm: Meditation and mindfulness app

Full discussion

Dialogues Directory

Since we kicked off Dialogues back in January 2016, we've hosted three series of panel talks on a wealth of topics important to our creative community. The aim: to affect positive change in the industry. From women in music production, to mental health and creativity, to diversity, discover our coverage of each of the insightful events.