I just finished a huge project last week and hot on the heels of completion was not only a wave of exhaustion, but also a feeling of depression and emptiness. Some old habits crept back in as my guard was down and I found myself wondering if there was such a thing as creative post-partum depression. In my search for an answer, I came across David Lecours’ blog post, Creative Postpartum Depression? You Are Not Alone, which led me to two books by Eric Maisel, PhD: The Van Gogh Blues—The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression and Creative Recovery.
While The Van Gogh Blues deals with depression that is often associated with creativity, Creative Recovery looks at the role of addiction in the lives of creative people. The sad truth, according to Maisel, is that the more creative someone is, the more susceptible to addiction they are. Addiction comes in many forms: drugs, alcohol and sex come to mind. But how about the way we eat, the types of food that we consume, and the reasons that we eat? What about the need for constant approval and to be liked by everyone? Or the countless hours we spend on social networks, surfing the internet, watching television, playing video games or a myriad of other things that remove us from a physical reality into an imaginary virtual world?
Is there a connection between addiction and depression? How do addictions affect our life? Is it possible for creative people to live healthy lives, balanced and stable, or does great art demand madness?
Creator and the Audience: Naming, Forming and Redefining Creation
It takes guts to create great art. It’s impossible to define or even say what great art is, but everyone knows it when it is experienced.
Great art is made by artists that are moody, temperamental, narcissistic, walking along the edge of destruction, and a breath away from death. Great art is also made by happy, joyful, well-balanced people, but it seems to be less celebrated in our society. We cling to the vision of the tortured artist that cuts her ear off for the sake of art. We lift high the iconoclast that rips apart society as he simultaneously injects hope and promise into his veins, unable to understand, comprehend or deal with his creation.
It could also be said that great art is made by the audience. If there were no audience, then art would not be received, shared and elevated. But, this begs the question: Can great art exist without an audience? How does great art adapt to a changing audience over weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and millenniums?
A work of art is created. An audience receives the work of art as what it was intended to be by the creator, transforming it into what it is understood to be. In an instant, a portrait of a woman, is interpreted and redefined by the experience of the audience. A song goes from a simple 3-chord structure into an anthem for a generation. Art shatters culture.
This shallow and surface analysis of art leads me to a simple question: What if the depression and addictions that creative people struggle with is not caused by the actual process of creating, but is the result of finishing the creation and releasing it into the experience of the audience?
Am I able to let things go so that I can move on? In the times when I am not working on anything creative, can I accept the feeling of emptiness and celebrate what was just accomplished?
In a recent interview, a pastor was sharing some struggles with me and ended his interview with a reflection upon what he was learning at the moment. He said, “I can do a lot of things, but what I really need to learn is how to be. Perhaps that is why we are called human beings and not human doings?”
As a creative person, I need to learn how to be. There will be moments where creativity and action are not there, should not be there, and it is in those moments that if I do not know how to be, depression and my addictive tendencies will flare up.
I, like the pastor above, am trying to learn how to be. It is hard. But it is necessary. Until then, I embrace depression, I accept my addictions, and I give myself the grace that I know that I would give to others. Or I’ll descend further into madness. Either way, it will be interesting and it will be the life that I choose to live.