Is Bipolar Art More Creative? How Bipolar Disorder Affects Creativity

Published 12/01/2020

Bipolar disorder and creativity have an interesting relationship. Not everybody with bipolar disorder is automatically creative and artistic, but it appears to nearly every observer that people with bipolar disorder are much more likely to be artistically inclined. The article will help to clarify the current understandings of the relationship between bipolar disorder and the arts.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

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Very briefly, to discuss the collaboration of artistry and bipolar disorder, there must be a brief definition of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness characterized by debilitating mood changes, which can happen a range of several times a week to a few times a year. The mood varies between mania (highs), depression (lows), and mixed (a combination of symptoms). The three main types of bipolar disorder are Bipolar I, which has more extreme manias, Bipolar II, and cyclothymia, characterized by less severe mood shifts.

If you are interested in learning more about bipolar disorder, consider taking a free diagnostic test at Mind Diagnostics here: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/bipolar_disorder-test. The test is free, and it may help you to learn more about your own mind.

Many artists claim that dramatic shifts in mood can charge their art. The sometimes overwhelming journey from mania to depression and back can aid in thinking outside of the box, according to many people with bipolar disorder. Furthermore, art is often an emotionally driven enterprise, and artists with bipolar disorder can sometimes claim a wider emotional range. Considering the relationship between emotions and art, there is much to be said about an emotional disorder helping to push an art form's boundaries.

A Rich History Of Bipolar Art

A rich history of bipolar art is part of the popularity behind this connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. Experts today speculate that many of the most famous artists of the past had bipolar disorder. Some major examples include Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allen Poe, to only name a few. Today, several artists are outspoken about their struggles with the disease, including Jean Claude Van Damme, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stephen Fry, Demi Lovato, Carrie Fisher, Kanye West, and many others.

Through these speculations and confirmations, the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity has become a popular idea. Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder are automatically assumed to be creative and vice versa. The brilliant and mentally ill artist's concept has become so widespread that the idea has nearly turned into a stereotype. Fortunately, this article can help clarify the boulder of truth behind the popular idea.

Here is a list of notable people diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or are heavily suspected of having lived with it undiagnosed). It is curated by Wikipedia, and the contents may surprise you. Many people are poets, painters, actors, singers, and other artists, but there are also notable politicians, athletes, academics, and more. After all, people with bipolar disorder are about as diverse as people without, but bipolar people have tendencies towards this or that, such as creativity.

The link between creativity and genius with mental illness has been speculated on, studied vigorously, and written about for hundreds of years. Bipolar disorder is one area of a wider study that has enraptured researchers for centuries.

Bipolar Art By The Numbers

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Studies consistently show a link between creativity and bipolar disorder. Some show that people with bipolar disorder are genetically predisposed to the arts, while other studies link high childhood IQ to manic traits. In a large study that analyzed the data from 86,000 people, researchers found that people who worked in creative fields were 25% more likely to carry genes associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

According to a group of researchers from Oregon State University, people with bipolar disorder are statistically more likely to work in creative fields. The Oregon paper remarked, “The probability of engaging in creative activities on the job is higher for bipolar than non-bipolar workers.”

Another researcher, Katherine P. Rankin, stated, “It is well-established that people with affective disorders tend to be overrepresented in the creative artist population (especially those with bipolar disorder). Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, consider Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison, which is about the connection between mood disorders and creativity. Though it is an older book published in 1993, it is considered the first major work on this subject.

The book offers a strong statistical analysis of the relationship between mental illness and creativity. While the book engages major depressive disorder as well, the main focus is bipolar disorder. The authoritative book found that 38% of artists covered in the book had received treatments for a mood disorder and that 89% of artists examined had periods of “intense, highly productive, and creative episodes,” which could be interpreted as relating to anxiety and/or mania.

Overall, bipolar people are much more likely to engage in the creative arts. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that people with bipolar disorder are at an inherent advantage with creativity.

The Neuroscience Behind The Connection

The makeup of the bipolar brain may shed some light on the creativity of bipolar people. For example, one study examined a patient’s creativity with respect to their bipolar disorder. The researchers from this study stated, “Bipolar patients may have diminished frontal regulation of subcortical affective systems involving the amygdala and striatum, which may increase their affective instability, as well as their compulsiveness... (the patient’s) history of bipolar disorder, may have laid the neuroanatomic foundation for the artistic creativity.”

Neuroimaging for the analysis between bipolar disorder and creativity is overly complex and difficult to summarize. Overall, while researchers struggle to definitively establish the neuroscientific basis of the connection, current research strongly suggests that there is substantial evidence supporting this connection. Certainly, more will be revealed in the coming decades as the science behind brain scans progresses.

Artistic Expression As Therapy For Bipolar Disorder

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In addition to artistic proclivity, people with bipolar disorder may be hardwired to respond to art's therapeutic nature.

As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a “mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well being.”

People with bipolar disorder, especially those with severe and unresponsive cases, have been clinically shown to oftentimes make progress as a result of art therapy when other therapies have failed. The self-expression behind different art forms can engage all of the benefits listed above, and art therapy can be a major addition for bipolar treatment.

Furthermore, art therapy's capacity to help with bipolar disorder may elucidate the connection between bipolar disorder and art further. Perhaps there is a strong connection between the two because of the therapeutic gains that bipolar patients make, instead of the commonly accepted notion that bipolar patients simply have a knack for one or more arts. Namely, the therapeutic nature of art may explain the observable bipolar connection better than people with bipolar disorder's talent and skill.

Art As Self-Care

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While art therapy is done in a professional setting, art can be performed as an act of self-care. Many different forms of art, from dance to sculpting, have been shown to help release pent-up emotions, which can greatly help stabilize moods. Art can also help someone with bipolar disorder communicate better with themselves, their support group and document moods for their therapist visits later on.

For mania and depression, a drawing, painting, journal entry, short story, dance, or another form of art can help the person with bipolar disorder healthily express their emotions. Additionally, this can help to communicate the emotions more effectively to those around them and themselves.

In the work Art Therapy and Clinical Neuroscience, Noah Hass-Cohan and Richard Carr hypothesize that making art as self-care and through art therapy may be as effective as other accepted therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Conclusion

There is a clear and well-documented connection between bipolar disorder and creativity that persists through statistics, neuroscience, and history. There is a great deal to be learned about this connection.

However, researchers know a powerful and reciprocal relationship between those with bipolar disorder and the creative arts. While bipolar people offer much to every art form, the arts return payment by helping people with bipolar disorder cope with the illness. It is a powerful relationship.