Creativity is related to fluency (the ability to generate numerous ideas), flexibility (the ability to see a given problem from multiple perspectives), and originality (the ability to come up with new and unique ideas) (Tracy,2001). Additionally, creativity includes experimentation, renovation in which experiences or ideas are used in new patterns and contexts. Creativity is related with both expressive behavior and problem-solving behavior (McNeil, 1971). According to Heilman, Nadeau and Beversdorf (2003), creativity has four stages: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. While preparation refers to collect the extensive knowledge and prepared mind’s understanding of the importance of observed fact and leads to incubate ideas about observing is incubation, illumination refers to understand the critic of the observed phenomenon and verification is to study, which is done to support it. For creative innovation, disengagement in ideas is important for the incubation stage to make remote associations that can be supplied in low level of arousal like depression. Low level of arousal like depression increases flexibility in thought (Tracy, 2001).

Ludwig separated art professions into three categories: Formal arts (architecture/design), performing arts (music, dance), and expressive arts (literature, visual arts). He observed that lifetime rates of any psychological disturbances increased from formal (%52) to expressive arts (%78), while formal arts include mathematical and objective forms, expressive arts include subjective, personalized and self-revelatory forms.

Low Arousal Mode for Creativity

Low level of arousal is necessary for creative innovation. When the person is at rest and relaxed, insight occurs. Although stress works for conscious attempt to problem solving which is high arousal, low arousal like in stages of relaxation, resting, dreaming and as well as depression is necessary to make remote associations. In a recent study of sleeplike position’s influences on ideas and well-being (Tracy, 2001) it was found that sleeplike positions increase flexibility in thoughts (which is one feature of creativity) and well-being (relaxing both mentally and physically).

Creativity and Psychology

The Healing Impact of Art

According to art therapist Elissa Ruccia, “Sometimes our grief or anger is so deep that we subconsciously block the expression of it for fear it will overwhelm us. Using art is a way to get at those feelings, little by little. To express it in some way. To give it a voice. Once we can see it, via our artwork, then we can begin to understand it, and our relationship to it is altered” (Good, 1999).

The Creative Process

Psychoanalytic Approach to Creativity Process

Psychoanalytic approach suggests that creativity process is an effort to communicate with the inner self, with the intense feelings and the basic motives, and because of that creative activity is caused by the need to communicate what is deep inside, creative works show what is deep inside (Edwards, 2005). For example, Dostoyevsky’s characters in his novels kill a homicide person, which represents Dostoyevsky’s desire to kill his father who behaved very badly to him (Freud, 1927). Freud’s theory suggests that “creativity arises from the tension between conscious reality and unconscious drives and that the creative product is a way to express unconscious wishes in a publicly accepted manner. Freud contended that all human motivation is aimed at maximizing the gratification of instinctual needs (especially sexual and aggressive needs) and defined sublimation as a diversion of energy from the pursuit of the unattainable or forbidden pleasures into socially approved endeavors. He believed that the progress of civilization might be largely attributed to the unconscious sublimation of energy generated by instinctual drives into creative work. Freud (1900, 1908) was primarily concerned with the motivation of creativity, which he generalized in the concept of ‘wish-fulfillment’, and the psychological processes underlying the formation of symbolic forms” (Gorny, 2007).

Representation of Edward Munch’s Scream

Edward Munch’s Scream

Edward Munch was suffered from hallucinations, depression, suicidal urges, and alcoholism. In his famous painting The Scream, he painted his experience of a hallucination. He described the hallucination in his diary as: “I was walking along in the road with two of my friends. Then the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature” (Hellen, 1972, p.109; Rothenberg, 2001).

Mental Illnesses’ Influence on Artworks

). In Berglard and Gonzales’ study (1993) that examines the differences of styles of artworks between hospitalized non-hospitalized people the drawings of each group were compared. Hospitalized people were psychiatric patients, and it was concluded that non-hospitalized people drew more realistic, while the hospitalized psychiatric patients drew more expressive, less structured, less organized, and less representational. After the study, six of hospitalized people committed to suicide whose paintings were more abstract, more chaotic, more diffuse, more cluttered and more random than others. Additionally, in the example of James Pollock –who was an abstract expressionist painter-, his style of painting changed dramatically in time, and by 1947, he abandoned the use of brushed and poured the paint straight on to the canvas. His drawing became less colored and figureless in years as he got more mentally ill. The black tone of paintings increased and in time the colors of paintings diminished to two. At the age of 44, he died in a suicide-like accident (Shapiro, 1999).

The Periods of Creativity Process

In the example of Van Gogh contrary to assumptions, he did not paint his famous paintings during his madness periods. He did his paintings in the normal periods between his crisis that are related to his mental illness. During crisis, he was able to do nothing –even to move-, although there had been no sign of illness at the rest, he was remarkably normal. He created his popular artworks in the period of normal (Arnold, 2004).

The Relationship between
Creativity and Melancholy

Understanding of the Relationship between Melancholy and Creativity

To be occupied is useful to overcome melancholy as Robert Burton (1621) indicated as

“I write of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy. There is no greater cause of melancholy than idleness, no better cure than business.”

Related to awareness and melancholy Lord Byron claimed,

“Melancholy is a fearful gift. What is it but the telescope of the truth” 

(Byron, 1816).

Talking about the burden of being too much aware of all the problems, Phoebe Cary described the load of sensing social grievances in his poem as

“There moments for us here, when 
Seeing life inequalities, and woe, and care
The burdens laid upon our mortal being 
Seem them heavier than the human heart can bear”.

Melancholy is related to creativity as it seems to provide the impetus to express oneself, one’s inner states and also what the artist perceives to be the injustice, pain in the social world around him. However, it is also important for the melancholy not to turn into a full-blown depression for the artist to have the peace of mind and concentration to be able to produce artwork. Alternately, to express melancholy through art prevents melancholy to turn into depression, in this sense to occupy with artistic creation has a healing affect. It can be interpreted as a threshold between well-being and mental illness in a gray area.

Deniz Coşan - Specialist Clinical Psychologist


Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor & Psychoanalyst in Formation IPA

Deniz Coşan is a Clinical Psychologist & Counselling Psychologist & Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst in Formation located in Istanbul, Turkey. She applies counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for adults in private practice & she also offers clinical supervision to psychotherapist working in psychoanalytical approach. Her sessions are both in English and in Turkish, face to face & online.

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