Crazy for Creativity (a Not-So-March-Madness)


Over the weekend, my Kentucky Wildcats may have lost to UConn in their Final Four match-up, but clearly there’s a lot to be said for another form of March Madness, a lot to be said for the merits of mania–the creative benefits of “crazy.” 

Part of my current challenge to write a memoir about growing up in a home raided semi-regularly by the FBI and struggling for more than twenty years with bipolar disorder has meant uncovering more of my artistic past.   And in that process I’m finding I created even more prolifically than I remembered during the years I was most symptomatic.  Clearly, I was crazy for creativity.

(For a great book on this link between manic-depression and creativity, take a look at Kay Redfield Jamison’s  Touched with Fire.)

Today specifically, I’d like to share a pair of paintings I did more than 13 years ago–both watercolor on paper.

In the late 90s, when these were done, I worked small–mostly because so much of my art was done during inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations, where I had neither the space nor the supplies to create on a larger scale.  Each of these watercolors, for example, is approximately 3 x 5.5 inches.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the mania that allowed me to create like this. 

Now, though I still write and draw and paint, it doesn’t come as easily.  And though creating in any medium can be intoxicating, less manic making of art sometimes feels more ordinary, less inspired, less a gift from the gods–more plodding and less March-Madness.

Are you, too, crazy for creativity?

37 thoughts on “Crazy for Creativity (a Not-So-March-Madness)

    • To be honest, I don’t remember what I was thinking. It reminds me of an underwater scene, but I didn’t consciously intend that, that I can recall. That’s the problem with this illness. Sometimes I can’t remember everything about having been manic or why I did what I did. Great question. Wish I knew the answer!

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  1. I think that at a fundamental level, painting is a visual manifestation of the relationship the artist has with himself and with the world at any given moment. That’s why in a room full of artists, all painting the same model or still life, there is such a broad diversity. Your art is a powerful example of that.

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    • This is so true, Renee, but I hadn’t thought about it in a while. To me these paintings are peaceful, floating, going with the flow. It’s kind of strange to me that I would have painted this at such a time. There seems some incongruity–or maybe that peaceful place was inside of me all the time–available, waiting. Thanks, Renee!

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  2. Terrific paintings! They feel bright and soothing…a great way to restore order to what sounds like a childhood that was filled with chaos. For what it’s worth, your memoir sounds like a terrific read – I’d buy it!

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    • Thanks so much, Mark! It was fairly chaotic, though strangely I didn’t think of it as such at the time. It’s only in retrospect and with lots of therapy I realize this to be true. Glad you think the memoir would be worth reading!

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  3. My heart breaks for your artistic abilities.
    Although someone who has substantially less talent than yourself, I, too, am crazy for creativity, and I ask you: do you feel a sense of relief in completing these paintings? Like you got something off your chest and are now less burdened by its weight?
    That’s how I feel after writing, and I’m curious to know if it spans mediums.

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  4. I have the bad kind of crazy: nothing productive came out of it. I really appreciate reading this series of posts ever since you left Haiti to start a new homebase here in the US.

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  5. Love those colors! I had a friend who was an artist and, during the years she was fighting a losing battle with Hodgkins, she worked small because she hadn’t the strength to work large. She made some wonderful small mandalas — about the size of the paintings you showed, and then she would dribble a little bit of acid on them, to burn patterns into them. It was interesting and some were quite lovely.

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    • Wow–I love mandalas and have done some, but the idea of dripping acid on them is amazing! It’s so interesting how illness can impact size. Thanks for sharing about your friend. Sorry to hear about her struggle!

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