Column is a monthly feature that follows the lives
of creative people and explores the world of creativity.
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
am not really a man of science, I am
not an observer, I am not an experimenter,
I am not even a thinker. I am nothing
but an adventurer - a conquistador -
with all the boldness, and the tenacity
of that type of being.'
people are in turn viewed as inspired, self indulgent,
insightful, and insane. To some the spark of genius
appears as a shallow breath away from the world
of the irrational and those misunderstood souls
who inhabit the world of the mad house.
Does creativity spring from an unseen reservoir
of neurosis and emotional anxiety? How mad are you?
Journey into the world of the creative mind.
Sarah is a single mother in her early twenties and
works as a checkout assistant in a large food store.
Although Sarah loves painting, no one sees her creative
work except her three year old daughter. Sarah is
a loving mother, is highly tuned, both to other
people's emotions and to all that goes on around
her, and maintains a quiet, self-contained presence.
Those that work with Sarah enjoy her independent
free spirit, but sense there is something 'other'
about her which they do not connect with. This otherness
both defines her as an individual, yet separates
her from her peers.
Sarah woke one day to find her partner had silently
left. She waited for him but he never returned.
A month later her doctor prescribed a course of
anti-depressants that did little but made her drowsy
and disoriented. After a week she had quit the medication.
The two things that pulled Sarah through the most
difficult times was the love of her child, and her
passion of painting. Some view her need to paint
purely as therapy, but Sarah paints to express herself
in moments of joy as well as sadness.
Sarah's inner life is rich, some might say bizarre.
Her dreams are full with colours, creatures, demons
and fairies. Her dreamland is both a place of adventure
and nightmare. In her waking life she sifts the
feelings and emotions of her experiences through
the filter of her brush. At times she lets her feelings
guide her, at others she controls, decides, amends,
Sarah speaks silently to herself, but then, if we
listen, so do we all. When she paints, her inner
voice seeps out and the whispers of her hopes and
dreams fill the canvas and touch the quiet air of
I Am Not
real diseases we are subject to many
that are only imaginary for which physicians
have invented imaginary cures: these
have their several names, and so have
the drugs that are proper to them...'
Jonathan Swift (1726)
Creativity and genius have been linked to madness
since the Ancient Greek writings of Hippocrates
and before, yet the contemporary idea of insanity
remains a confused and often poorly argued notion.
Anthony Storr in an address to the Royal College
of Psychiatrists (UK) stated that genius tended
to be born of madness: 'Creativity should be linked
with mental instability'. From the viewpoint of
R D Laing, Thomas Szasz, and Foucault however, 'madness'
is a label created by society in order to imprison
Creativity can, as Szasz and others have noted,
be threatening to State authority and control, and
the spontaneity and originality of creative people
is often seen as a threat to the traditional and
conservative nature of many societies. For that
reason, 'scientific' models of the origin and nature
of creativity seek to identify and label who creative
people are, so they can be restrained or controlled.
If creative people are portrayed as sick or unhealthy,
then the dangerousness of their ideas can be more
as we have words to describe medicine
as a healing art, but have none to describe
it as a method of social control or
political rule, we must first give it
a name. I propose that we call it pharmacracy,
from the Greek roots pharmakon, for
‘medicine' or ‘drug,' and
kratein, for ‘to rule' or ‘to
control.' ... As theocracy is rule by
God or priests, and democracy is rule
by the people or the majority, so pharmacracy
is rule by medicine or physicians.'
Thomas Szasz, (Ceremonial Chemistry
In the past people considered the fear of impending
death might snap the insane person back to normality.
The 'patient' would be placed in a coffin-shaped
box pierced with holes and lowered into a tank of
water. When bubbles ceased to rise they would be
taken out, and if possible, revived. The spinning
stool was another 'treatment' that spun the patient
round until they were dizzy. The spinning would
'rearrange the brain contents into the right positions'.
Nowadays psychiatrists continue the tradition of
'blind therapy' through the use of drugs and electric
shock treatment known as Electro Convulsive Therapy
(ECT). An electric shock is given to the patient
(much like electric eels were used in Roman times)
which reportedly 'calms depression' and other 'neurotic
Killing brain cells indiscriminately however is
not the most effective way to encourage happiness.
mind is its own place, and of itself
can make a heaven of hell, a hell of
John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)
word genius derives from the ancient belief that
s/he who displays genius has a guardian spirit,
or daemon ('genio'), which whispers in their ear.
An inevitable consequence of language acquisition
however is the development of our inner voice.
Rather than madness being viewed as an illness,
Plato and Aristotle viewed madness as a force of
illumination. Their view was that an inspired picture
of the world could be created by listening to the
voice of madness. In Western culture many mistakenly
view this as the antithesis of the voice of reason.
We are free to fulfil our creative potential only
when we release ourselves from the fear and prejudice
that so often defines our notions of madness. There
is still little we know about ourselves and much
to explore, and therein lies our great adventure.
welcomes feedback on The Column. Go to Feedback,
complete the form, and make your views known.