Artists are a bit crazy—or are they?

November 30, 2015
Sarah Choe, North High School, 10th

Sarah Choe
North High School
10th grade

Artists in many fields, such as music, graphic art, and literature, are often seen as creative, or perhaps even slightly crazy.

This stigma is backed up by a legion of historical artists who have engaged in a multitude of eccentric behaviors, such as Van Gogh, famous for his paintings as well as the legend of his self-mutilation of his ear, and Ludwig van Beethoven, the musician and pianist who wrote beautiful music, yet who had a temper that bordered on bipolar disorder.

Recent studies revolving around artists’ brains reveal that such theories are not wholly inaccurate; artists truly may be slightly crazy, yet the topic is still very much a controversy.

Evidence and experiments conducted by numerous scientists suggest that artistic talent, creativity, and mental disturbances may be intricately linked through genetics. As reported by The Guardian, one study in Iceland found that, on average, people in a creative profession (e.g. painters, musicians, and dancers) were 25% more likely to carry genetic variants for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia than professions deemed “less creative” (e.g. farmers, manual laborers, and salesmen).

Though studies such as the one described are controversial for their “flimsiness,” it is a known fact that artists’ brains are different from the average person’s. Structure-wise, artists have a significantly greater amount of grey matter, a part of the brain responsible for routine and fine motor control, than non-artists, according to scans and research published in Neurolmage and reported by BBC News.

However, there are plenty of opinions that clash with the artist’s crazy image. An article published by Huffington Post featured a study in which viewers judged Van Gogh’s painting, Sunflowers. Half of the participants were informed of his ear mutilation legend, and the others were not; the authors of the study reported later that “‘the art was evaluated more positively when Van Gogh’s eccentric behavior was mentioned,’” reinforcing the notion that insanity makes an artist’s work more interesting. The idea is further backed up by Stanford Journal’s by Adrienne Sussman. Sussman questions the link between creativity and craziness, writing that the insane aspect was so desirable that “[t]o be a serious artist, one needed to be ‘touched,’ spurring some artists to actually mimic madness or eccentricity in order to be more respected for their creative work.”

While there are scientific studies that explore the connection between creativity and insanity, they tend to be somewhat doubtful it their application. Also, as far-fetched as it may sound, some artists actually seem to seek an element of craziness in their work to gain public attention.


One Comment

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