Are you Creative or Just Crazy?


Many of the people that have known me throughout my life have labeled me as different. Some have delivered the label as a compliment and others as an insult. Some would call me creative, others would call me crazy, and still others would say that there is a fine line between the two.

Do you have to be crazy to be truly creative? There are many examples to draw from. In fact, it appears that in the creative arts there are more creative crazies than in any other field.

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is arguably one of the best artists in human history. Here is a man that experienced delusions and seizures and of course reportedly cut off part of his ear and sent it off to a prostitute as a gift. This was the type of “different” thinking that caused his brother Theo to institutionalize him. Vincent often experienced manic incidents, disturbing visions, and became increasingly paranoid, thinking that he was being poisoned. Van Gogh fell into periods of deep depression. He once tried to kill himself by eating paint and in July of 1890, at the age of 37, he walked into a field, shot himself, and died two days later. Vincent Van Gogh died thinking that he was a failure as a man and as an artist.

Edgar Allan Poe

Historians suggest that Edgar Allan Poe suffered from depression, bi-polar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). No one knows for sure. Poe himself was quoted as saying “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.” Poe, like many before, probably drank as self-medication to dull the symptoms he experienced in life.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali’s life was full of phobias, obsessions, hallucinations, and paranoia. All of these facets meet the criteria of a number of personality disorders including schizophrenia and narcissism. Despite his mental illness, he was a famous, highly successful artist.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart was brilliant. He was also a little crazy. There have been debates as to whether Mozart suffered from Tourette syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, or ADHD. No matter how you label him; Mozart was a little off. Composing music from the age of five, Mozart is one of the most accomplished musical composers.

Crazy or Creative Genius?

Did Vincent Van Gogh’s craziness result in the masterpieces that he created? Did Edgar Allan Poe’s illness improve his work or detract from it? Was Dali’s craziness related to his creativity? Does it matter how Mozart was inspired to create?

Divergent thinking is one of the hallmarks of creativity. Being able to think differently than others is a key requirement of original thought but how different and when does different become insane? Is there a line between the two or are creativity and craziness two points on the same line? A research study that concluded in 2010 may provide a possible answer.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockhom Sweden studied the relationship between creativity and individuals suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorders. What the researchers found is that highly creative individuals have a similar dopamine system to individuals suffering mental health issues. The similarity is that the dopamine system of these individuals includes fewer receptors in the thalamus than less creative people. The thalamus acts as a relay center that filters information before it reaches areas in the cortex that is responsible for cognition and reasoning. Less filtering means more divergent thinking which is a key to generating new and novel thoughts. This is at the heart of creativity and now there is evidence that people who make new and sometimes unusual connections do so because their brains filter less information and allow those connections to be made. In regards to the similarity between creative people and the mentally ill, Dr. Ullen from the Karolinska Institutet says that “thinking outside of the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.”

Human creativity expert Dr. Shelley Carson states that “creativity and psychosis have shared vulnerabilities.” Carson explains that psychosis and creativity both are linked to a novelty-seeking mentality and a reduced ability to filter data. More data means more information that can be combined in original and creative ways. “Creativity is being able to see that connection that others can’t see,” said Carson.

Creative or Just Crazy?

Are you creative or crazy? Perhaps you are both or neither. In the end it depends on your point of view. If you are creative and find that you do not suffer from a mental illness consider yourself fortunate. Those creative geniuses that suffered or continue to suffer the pain of mental illness have often been creative despite their situation. I applaud their success and now have a new appreciation for their pain. Perhaps we should all abandon the stigma associated with mental problems.

In the end whether you are creative or crazy is a silly argument. If you can create that is to be celebrated. If you are mentally ill you should seek treatment and we as society should support and care for you. When it comes to creativity I tend to believe that we should embrace the crazy within us. After all it is what makes us unique and different from everyone else.

So, I ask you, are you creative or just crazy?






de Manzano, Ö., Cervenka, S., Karabanov, A., Farde, L., & Ullen, F. (2010). Thinking outside a less intact box: thalamic dopamine D2 receptor densities are negatively related to psychometric creativity in healthy individuals. PloS one, 5(5), e10670.

Patel, K. (2013, May 20). “Crazy and Creative?”, the Graduate Student Magazine of Boston University’s College of Communication, Retrieved from http://www. =1791&id=60464ext here.

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