Will modern psychiatric drugs "cure" artistic genius?

I have a 20 year old nephew who suffered several serious bouts of mental illness during his teen years. He attempted suicide at 15, was hospitalized, and eventually, after much trial and error, they found the right cocktail of psychiatric drugs and therapy to treat his condition. During these troubled years, he was extremely antisocial and spent most of his time in his room creating some very brilliant, though often dark and disturbing, poetry and sketches.

Today he leads a relatively normal life of a college student with hobbies and friends. He still sees a therapist, but seems very “normal” , albeit eccentric, and no longer needs to use art as an outlet for his depression and anxiety. His parents are very pleased with how things have turned out.

But this got me thinking: what if my brother and sister-in-law just ‘cured’ the next Van Gogh? He still has artistic talent, but seems to have lost the motivation to be creative. Don’t get me wrong…I’m delighted that he is no longer self destructive and seems on the road to a happy life…but I can’t help but wonder if we’d have Starry Night and Sunflowers if Van Gogh had access to prozac. Thoughts?

The psychiatric drugs may have cured Van Gogh and we’d not have Starry Night but - ethics require that they be used even if you know for certain that you’re destroying the next Starry Night. The ends do not justify the means. Mental illness is torture for the mentally ill. Torturing people (or allowing the torture to continue) in order to elicit works of art is indefensible.

Well. Van Gogh painted those things when he was in a mental hospital. He also killed himself. It’s a bit of a trade-off, I think. You want to suffer life with depression, anxiety, and ____? Rest assured, the world can live without another van Gogh. The kid’s parents can’t live without him, though.

Yes I would agree and I’m not suggesting my nephew go off his meds just to see what brilliant art he creates. I’m more wondering what type of impact modern psychiatric therapies will have on artistic creativity. It seems -at least to me-that many artists, whether they are poets, painters, musicians…are motivated by their depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.

You should check out the book Diary by Chuck Palaniuk, it’s very much along these lines.

You’re not the first person to put forth this argument. Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist with bipolar disorder herself, wrote a book arguing that there is a link between mood disturbance and creativity:

I agree with the view that if someone is in enough emotional pain that they are attempting suicide, then the downside of “losing” those artistic works is well worth easing the anguish and suffering the person is experiencing.
Another issue is that sometimes people with severe psychiatric problems can harm others (though mentally ill people as a group are not as dangerous as the general public tends to think). When I was working on a psychiatric unit I met patients who were so severely manic that they became psychotic during their manic episodes. Some of them actually had attacked other people. One person had even killed a family member while apparently experiencing a manic episode. It’s very rare for things to be that bad, but the risk of such things happening would make me very reluctant to encourage people to avoid psychiatric meds for the sake of preserving their tortured genius.

James Joyce had a mentally-ill niece, and once asked her doctor (was it Carl Jung, or is my memory corrupted?) if she weren’t “suffering” from the same sort of condition which had made him a celebrated literary genius.

The doctor replied, “You are swimming; she is sinking.”

It’s tempting to oversimplify this issue for the sake of the debate, but it’s not a choice between a healthy boring person or a Van Gogh who dies at a young age. Psychiatric treatment also does not take away all of a person’s issues, and a lot of the time it’s not a permanent solution. While some very creative people are very disturbed, there are creative people who aren’t seriously ill. And there’s also this to consider: posthumous Jimi Hendrix albums to the contrary, dead people don’t create much art.

A slightly more practical point, maybe: we’ve had ‘modern psychiatric drugs’ since the 1950s, and even though that’s more than enough time to see an effect, I don’t think a lot of people would argue that artistic genius has been extinguished. I know the use of those drugs has increased a lot in the last 20 years or so, but still.

This is just my experience, but whenever I go off the Abilify I’m on, I immediately stop any writing I do simply because my brain is too disorganized to actually get words on paper. When I get back on it, I pick it up again. I have major depression with psychotic features, FWIW.

That said, Seroquel actually does impede my creativity. Not all psychiatric meds are created equal, and what may work well for one person may not work at all for another. For some, Seroquel is a godsend. For me, it was dung from the anus of Satan himself. Likewise, Abilify is perfect for my condition, but for many, it’s the psychiatric equivalent of listening to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” a dozen times in a row.

As for your nephew, I agree with the consensus in this thread. Better sane and happy and noncreative than insane and suicidal and creative. I’m probably a lot closer to the latter than the former. (If it weren’t for the Abilify, I’d be neither of the two, since I’d be worm food now.)

Psychiatric meds really are the epitome of the abbreviation “YMMV”.

Sometimes it can go the other way. When I became depressed I stopped creating (along with just about everything else). Now that I’ve got my meds straightened out and finally started seeing a therapist, I’m making art, even writing. IMHO, art doesn’t always come from misery.

I would disagree with the idea that once you are “normal” your talent goes.

It’s there, it’s up to the person to access it.

When the OP’s nephew was left of center, he had to have an outlet for his pain and this was in poem and such. He still has the ability, he just is too busy in life doing “normal” things to find time to do it.

It’s no different, than if you have a person who is “normal” but gifted at say a piano. Then he discovers he likes football and stops playing the piano and goes on to be an NFL player. He still has the talent but doesn’t want to play piano.

I maintain the gift is there, but you’re too busy to use it or the desire isn’t there.

As for me, when I was little I had a desire to sew. I’d make all sorts of elaborate things for my dolls. In my teens I made a lot of my own dresses. Everyone said, I had a lot of talent. Then for some reason, in my last year of high school, I got involved in theatre and lost interest.

People thought I’d go for the costume designer, but I liked acting. Now I have no real interest in acting or clothes designing. I can still make a dress for someone now and then. My talent is still there, but really most of the time I can’t be bothered

We would not have Starry Night or Sunflowers if Van Gogh had access to prozac.

It’s an individual’s choice: to allow a person to suffer so the individual can enjoy the outcome of the suffering, or to improve that person’s living conditions that would result in the absence of perceived “artistic” works.

In our society, the perception of mental health takes priority over art. As it should.

After all, art is only a human emotional reaction. It can be enjoyable, but it has nothing to do with reality.

From my understanding, psych meds have a cumulative effect on different areas of the brain. One area, for example, is the appetite mechanism – some psych meds are notorious for weight gain, even though the person taking them isn’t eating any more/less than usual. Another example is sleepiness/lethargy. Another one is “blunting” in that, the creative side is still there, but it’s blanketed by the meds.

True story: I have a friend who, before being diagnosed bipolar, was severely manic – not to the extent of killing somebody, mind you, but manic enough to frighten whoever was around him. Very musically talented guy, btw – he played piano and guitar, sang, and, when he wasn’t in manic mode, just listening to him was utter joy. He stopped playing during the “let’s find the correct med cocktail” phase. When he was stabilized he claimed that the meds “blunted” him. I’ve since lost touch with him, so I have no idea if that’s still the case.

It would make sense, though: Side effects can overwhelm even the most creative soul. I’m thinking that’s what happened with him.

Personal opinion: “blunting” is a very good way of putting it. Yet while I’ve produced some good work while off anti-depressants, I produce a lot more consistently while on them.

I’m certainly not an artistic genius, but I do make a living amongst artsy folks. And I agree exactly with what Marley said. When I’m on Lithium my issues don’t disappear but they are certainly more manageable to the extent that I can function and create my ‘art.’ But when I go off of it my mood swings are so volatile that I’m not creating anything because I can’t focus long enough. Or, if I let it go too far I sink into debilitating depression which leaves me laying in bed unable to function. Not much creativity going on when I’m under the covers hiding from myself.

I also agree with **The Man With The Golden Gun **that psych meds really are a YMMV sort of thing.

It was his daughter, Lucia. According to JJ’s wikipedia entry “Jung said she and her father were two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that he was diving and she was falling.”

Is this not all somewhat bound up with the myth of the tortured artist, that you have to suffer for your art?

Anecdote time. The most successful artist I know (he’s a painter) is pretty much the opposite of the stereotype. He’s stable, practical, and lacks volatility. He also works very, very, hard to do what he does and that shows in the results. I don’t know what he’d create if he were mentally unstable but I suspect his technique would never have developed as much as it has, nor would he produce the volume of work he does if he were.

Moved MPSIMS --> IMHO.

twicks, half of whose family is bipolar and the other half just depressed, and who thanks god for mood-stabilizing medications

It’s called “selection bias.” Artists have to suffer for their art, so let’s mention Van Gogh.

There are tons of normal artists. Off the top of my head, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Pable Picasso, and Stephen King.