On Crisis-Inspired Creativity

I painted a lot in 2004. A LOT. I love and take pleasure in art but different media mean different things to me. When I write, take photos, or make pottery it is a very introspective and calming experience. I am examining the world and/or myself with wonder. It is healing and unifying, a moving forward. While the outputs can be lovely, they are at times passionless, careful and restrictive. For lack of a better term, they are “well-medicated”. Ironically, so am I. (Maybe that’s not so ironic actually) Something is missing from me and from them…..the CRAZY.

That’s right, it has been anecdotally proven over the centuries that the most inspired artists are the crazy ones. There has to be some scientific backing to this in the study of the brain. (It’s on my to do list to do some research here. Anyone have any good book recommendations?) Something about neural pathways and synnapse firing or something, I fundamentally understand this at least on an intuitiive level. I’ve had a foot in both worlds. And there is a real danger here, especially for career artists. Ever wonder why a perfectly well-off highly-functioning individual with bipolar disporder would suddenly go off their meds? Well, I can only speak for myself when I tell you….because IT FEELS GOOD. Drugs suck. Drugs really, really suck when you are an artist.

I don’t know whether it’s the drugs themselves weighing me down or if it’s only “crazy me” that’s the artist. Either way, same result. I can only make good art when I’m manic. And on top of that, being manic is fun….until it’s not. But all that creative energy, the ideas and colors and motion and urgency are the siren’s call of drug-ditching.  What we forget is what that will ultimately cost us, cost those around us. We are emotonal bulls in a china shop with no sense of consequence. We are larger than life, bulletproof,  the smartest people in the room. We are also erratic, destructive, irritable and irrational. We are impervious to reason when reason wants us the most. Then we crash.

In 2004 I was at my peak of self-deluded manic greatness.  Plowing through relationships like a hot knife through butter. Doing the work of many but taking no prisoners in the process. Then one day I got fired. FIRED. Me? The supposed dream employee? Getting things done at all costs? Well I guess the price of that was just too rich for their blood and they cut the cord. Both the best and worst day of my life. My reaction after the dramatic HR scene I pulled was a strange one. All I wanted to do was make art. It wasn’t merely a therapeutic excercise or escape, it was this viceral need to purge what was inside me. I think I completed something like 12 paintings in 2 weeks. Not depressing dirgey paingings but lively, colorful ones. Almost happy looking. But when you look a bit closer, what seems lively is chaotic and frenzied. There is a desperateness in the brushwork, a cry for help in the brashness of the hues that I never noticed until years later. While I thought painting was my “happy place” it turns out that is was my attempt to purge my turmoil, to release the valve on the pressure cooker inside me.

For better or worse, those were the most creatively inspired and productive months I’ve ever had. While I know I can never go back there, I mourn the loss. Odd as that may sound, a part of me is dormant and I miss that part of me. A piece of my identity is gone (or in regression, like a sneaky cancer) But that cancerous identity has value. It was a living breathing force. Funny, smart, creative. I want to be those things again. More than anyone knows, but I also know the cost and it’s too high. So sadly I shelve a piece of my soul. And, yes, I do empathize with the manic indulgers out there, the ones who feel better less medicated. Because giving away a piece of yourself is painful, and pretty damn hard. So, don’t judge too much or wonder too much about their motives. Just love them and encourage them to find a healthy balance for themselves and the ones they love.

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