The Tortured Artist

It’s such a cliche. I have to wonder if there’s some truth to it though, if there’s a psychological link between creativity and sadness. In the last couple of weeks I’ve received a lot of news that left me, to say the least, less than happy. Since then, I played piano for the first time in months, added a couple of new things to my bucket list, and even started this blog complete with a dozen posts just waiting to be published. I thought about it, and this is a normal pattern of behavior for me… if my parents and I have a disagreement, I’ll probably be up til all hours of the night drawing horses and tigers. If I’m particularly lonely, I’ll re-decorate my room or give watercolors a second (third, or eleventh) try. So of course, I did a little research. As expected, there isn’t one definite explanation for this phenomenon, although I did find that it’s very common. The following passage caught my eye:

“…melancholia (in my eyes) generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create…” (1)

My simple theory is that when we have so much going inside of us, we’re naturally wired to try and communicate that somehow, to get it outside of us; this could be through words, art, music, or dance. We’re very expressive creatures, always trying to put things into an understandable, relatable format. Consider “venting” for instance, it’s the same concept. Who knows the scientific reason why it makes some people feel better, but it does, just because they got everything on their mind out there.

Another fun fact I found was that feelings of sadness increase our attentiveness to detail. While this doesn’t exactly mean we’re more creative, it could mean that we’re better at being creative. In one study, shoppers were asked if they could recall and describe random items placed throughout the store as they left. Some days, the weather was pleasant and uplifting music was played throughout the store, and on other days it was stormy and Verdi’s “Requiem” could be heard through the aisles. The shoppers who visited the “low mood” environment were able to recall nearly four times as many of the items! (2)

Perhaps there isn’t a practical application for this knowledge, but I found it intriguing regardless. Food for thought :)


(1) “In Praise of Melancholy and How it Enriches our Capacity for Creativity” by Maria Popova. http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/28/against-happiness-melancholy-wilson/

(2) “Feeling Sad Makes us More Creative” by Jonah Lehrer. http://www.wired.com/2010/10/feeling-sad-makes-us-more-creative/

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3 thoughts on “The Tortured Artist

  1. I’ve thought along the same lines! After especially sad says, I can still remember what the day looked like, how the weather went etc even after a long time has past.
    And like they say, “When you’re happy, you enjoy the music, when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Dear JoRobin:

    Haven’t you every noticed the correlation between Creative Humor and @uicide; the Creative Writer and Madness; Many Artists and Actors and Drink & Drugs?

    Melancholia doesn’t necessarily cause Creativity nor Creativity necessarily cause the referenced problems but there is a link between them.

    Sadness may sharpen your perceptions but the creativity must already be there to for it to expand. Turning to creative pursuits may just be a form of escapism for many….like myself.

    ~~dru~~

    Liked by 1 person

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