Genius, Madness, and Normal: What is the Connection?

Patient Expert

What if I told you there was conclusive research that showed that it was all a lie - that bipolars were no more creative than the chronically normal?

Don't worry, it's not true. But imagine being told that Van Gogh and Beethoven and Newton and the rest were just statistical flukes, that madness has nothing to do with creativity, that - truth be known - we are just defective versions of normal.

Basically Rotarians not good enough to be Rotarians.

Just to set your mind at ease, according to a piece by author Eric Barker appearing a couple of days ago on Time Magazine, "Fiction writers are 10 times more likely to be bipolar. In poets it's 40 times more likely."

Citing researchers such as Arnold Ludwig and Nancy Andreasen, Mr Barker notes: "Even college students who sign up for poetry-writing seminars have more bipolar traits than college students generally."

But before we congratulate ourselves "

In another recent piece - this time on the blog Fast Company - author Eric Jaffe cites psychologist Anne Dietrich in pointing out the obvious fact that the vast majority of creative individuals are not mentally ill, and that the vast majority of those with mental illness are not creative.

Mr Jaffe, however, does cite psychologist Dean Simonton in support of the proposition that there are rare mad geniuses who stand out from your average ordinary "creative Joes."

If this doesn't quite resonate with you, perhaps it's because Mr Jaffe neglected to mention in his piece how luck plays into the equation. Not that Van Gogh was lucky, mind you, but you only have to read Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book, Outliers, to realize that even minor recognition is a matter of chance.

To freely interpret - yes, we have creative geniuses in our midst, lots of them.

Nevertheless, if we're speculating where the optimum creative genius sweet spot would lie, we need to be honest and say that it is probably somewhere north of "normal" and south of bipolar.

A brain just odd enough to entertain novel ideas, in other words, but together enough to see those ideas through to completion. There are people who manage to pull it off. And, yes, part of that population does include us, and we need to celebrate that fact.

Heaven help, after all, if we were normal. Normal is nothing more than an average, a mean, conformity to the norm, a dysfunctional state of terminal Rotarianism.

But being just a little bit closer to normal might make life a tad easier. That is the challenge. I will leave you with this question: How many paintings did Van Gogh produce after age 37?

Further reading:

Using Creativity in Our Recovery

Six Famous People with Bipolar