Anne is a licensed art psychotherapist working with children, adolescents and adults in Northern Wisconsin. She has contributed to a textbook of therapeutic experientials published by the American Counseling Association, in press.
The other day I ran across an article that explores the fine line between creativity and insanity. The article explained that we creative types express ourselves primarily through the right side of the brain. According to the author, weíre considered “schizotypes” and we arenít supposed to suffer the same symptoms that affect schizophrenics, but, well, weíre eccentric all the same. Iím assured that by being creative Iím not abnormal, but simply idiosyncratic. Oh.
Iíve always been idiosyncratic, and maybe a bit eccentric. I love to create colorful artwork with whatever is handy. For instance, when I was nine I created dolls and clothing for them from cocoanuts and pine boughs so I would have company to play with on vacation. Idiosyncratic? Maybe to a casual observer, but it made sense to a little girl. When I expressed my creativity through the lifestyle proposed by Martha Stewart in the 1990s, I created a fantasy country farmhouse kitchen from cherry wood dressers and various other furniture pieces found at rummage sales when I couldnít afford the pricy unfitted kitchen look that I found so appealing. It was wonderful and creative, but did not go over well with prospective home buyers when I sold the home. Oh dear, us creative types can be so misunderstood.†
There were times in my life when the soft, scratchy, dusty work of creating images using huge fist-sized chalks on extra-large pieces of brown mailing paper seemed just the ticket, and there were times when small, detailed, richly nuanced colored pencil drawings on pristine white delicately textured paper were what I sought to create. As an art therapist, I now know that the works with chalk and brown paper were explorations of expanding horizons that needed room, color, and texture to help me make sense of what I was learning and the feelings I was testing and then putting away for later study. My tight, heavily nuanced colored pencil drawings explored just as much of what I was investigating and feeling, but I was expressing myself in a more controlled way.
As an art therapist, when I look at any art I know that there is probably a reason behind choices of materials, colors and images. But I canít read minds, and consequently canít “read” art pieces. I have used chalks to explore20new experiences and new ways of looking at things in my life. Someone else might use chalk work to explore letting go, for chalk is an ephemeral medium, easily banished by just a wipe of the hand. Colored pencil drawing is certainly a more controlled medium; and it can express great depth, or simplicity, as each artist may use the pencils in a different way. The art and all of the nuances that make up the art are conscious or unconscious choices, but the choices are individual to the artist. The work and expertise of an art therapist lies in the therapeutic exploration of those choices. Sometimes the exploration takes the form of creation and the act of creating alone may be relied upon as the therapeutic process. Sometimes talking about the artistic process, delving into what the artist was thinking when creating an image, accesses the therapeutic process.
Sometimes I wonder how the fine line between creativity and insanity can be negotiated through artistic expression. I watch as my clients wrestle with dark fears and damaging experiences through their artwork. Whereas the process of creating artwork can in and of itself be therapeutic, sometimes a therapeutic moment comes when a disturbing image is explored, with client and therapist working side by side wrestling with an image representing some inner impulse framed by the client. Sometimes the images are disturbing to look at, but often they hide impulses, feelings, and memories that point to an inner strength that belie s disturbing imagery. Often creativity and eccentricity are found to be an expression of inner reserves in dealing with the “slings and arrows” that pierce our lives with cares that need examination and ultimately, distance.
I think that the fine line between creativity and insanity is as wide as a river. The line is so heavily determined by interpretation that itís not very fine at all. How much space do us schizotypes take up in that fine line? Do we march many abreast in our creative search for expression? I think so. I believe that linking creativity with insanity is a misplaced point of juncture in the mapping of what falls along the continuum of mental health. Creative acts can be used as an outlet for healthy expression, and often are. To link healthy creativity with insanity is, well, a red herring that doesnít belong swimming in that river that is the fine line.
See Than, K. (2005,†Fine Line Revealed Between Creativity and Insanity†at†http://www.livescience.com/health/050907_schizotype_creative.html
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