If it sounds oddly specific, that’s because it is. So why am I asking this question? I’m not, people on the all-knowing Google are. I was trying to brainstorm article ideas for the blog and decided to type in just the beginning of a question to see what Google would suggest. I wrote, “Are artists more likely to be…” the following words followed: “depressed,” “left-handed,” and “homosexual.” Google knows not just your biggest questions but also the answers, so naturally, I took to Google to find out if these beliefs are founded or largely just stereotypes. And if they are true, why are they true? There must be some reason behind it on a psychological or scientific level.
1. Are artists more likely to be depressed?
To paraphrase an article on Psychology Today that basically says that artists are different in many ways from the typical human beings and when we as creative-beings ignore our callings or artistic impulses, especially for long periods of time, it can understandably lead to a bit of depression. The author goes on to say, ” even when I’m supposed to be focusing on health I always make a point of encouraging people to explore and use their unique talents. I believe one’s health depends on it. When I was 28, I almost had a total breakdown. This was largely because my gifts for writing and dancing had been relentlessly ignored and squashed for decades by a well-meaning but treacherous educational and social system. It almost killed me.”
One may insinuate that this means it’s not creativity that makes one prone to depression but actually neglection of the creative mind that does. But then the author goes on to say, “creatives experience higher rates of mood disorders than the general population, the extremes of highs and lows tend to be brief, balanced by long periods of normal [effect,] or euthymia. During these respite periods, creatives frequently reflect upon and draw from memories and experiences of their darker times to create their best art.” So not only can it be rather depressing when you are a creative unable to express yourself in the ways most natural to you, but being a creative you may already be prone to mood-disorders already regardless of if you’re able to create or not.
Lastly, artists typically aren’t “normal” for if they were, they’d seize to be the original creative thinkers they are. This can lead to both alienation and isolation. When you are so misunderstood by others and do not always get a healthy amount of social stimuli, that can have further effects on your overall mental health. Back to artists not typically being the most typical of people, this plays in nicely with #3 on the list and why they may be so creative, to begin with.
2. Are artists more likely to be left-handed?
According to another article by Psychology Today (can you tell that I love and wholeheartedly trust that site?), they say, “Myth: Left-handers are more introverted, intelligent and creative.” The whole right-brain/left-brain is also a myth. But why get too into that when I can just let Psychology Today do it for me. I’d probably just quote them if I told you about it anyways. I swear this isn’t a sponsored post! Did I mention they have a deal going on if you subscribe to their magazine? Kidding! Kidding! They don’t really or at least as far as I know.
3. Are artists more likely to be homosexual?
Okay… So there’s a Psychology Today article at the top of all my Google searches. I’m starting to think Google just knows I’ll click on it so why not put it right in front of my face? So let’s see what they say! I’ve already used them as a resource this many times, I’m pretty committed at this point, so why stop now on the last one? Psychology Today states that “Creative people are complex, meaning that they see the world from multiple perspectives. This is an adaptive response to complex inputs during childhood. We are all constantly trying to make sense of the world we live in and the more complex our experiences, the more challenging this proves to be. This challenge is the key to creativity.” Because of this, they say that immigrants are also more likely to be more creative. Meaning these atypical experiences as well as hardships endured can breed atypical -and thus creative- people. For what is creativity other than basically just atypical thinking?
They also go on to say, “Cities in the U.S. with a high proportion of gay residents, as inferred from Census data on living arrangements also have a large proportion of residents working in creative industries such as research, publishing, design, music, film, television, advertising, fashion, theatre, and so forth (3). Presumably, gay people are attracted by creative opportunities but it is also possible that the tolerance and openness of highly creative cities [are] particularly welcoming to homosexuals.”
They even go as far as to metaphorically compare gays and immigrants and how they’re similar, “Whereas the strongly gender-typed individual sees the world through a single filter, the androgynous individual can perceive the same event simultaneously through masculine and feminine eyes. An androgynous man is thus analogous to a male immigrant in the territory of women whereas an androgynous woman is like an immigrant in the nation of men. Gays are like immigrants in the world of heterosexuals.”
Coincidentally Psychology Today then ties it all back to #1, the suffering of artists as perhaps a reason why they are more likely to be both depressed as well as creative ti begin with, “A person doesn’t have to be an immigrant or a homosexual to be creative, of course, but something else gives them that oblique perspective. It might be childhood illness, or the loss of a parent, or some other experience that allows them to perceive the world differently from the mainstream.”
In conclusion, though not all artists are depressed or gay, it certainly isn’t uncommon. Whereas being left-handed is largely a myth. Artists are also very unique individuals with usually interesting or often times difficult backgrounds that shape their perspective and can have lasting effects on their mental health. I imagine the mental health issues that they experience only make their own reality that much more unique thus propelling their creative edge further. It sounds like a vicious cycle where the beauty of art is, in the end, a silver lining. Artists truly do suffer for their work, for without suffering, their art may seize to exist. What are your thoughts as an artist who may be depressed, left-handed, or homosexual?
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Image info: “Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528 ), Coat of Arms with a Skull, 1503, engraving, Rosenwald Collection”