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Artistic Intelligence in the Realm of Mental Ill Health

I’ve been recently inspired by the lives of Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh to reflect on the blatantly clear link between mental illness and expressive art. I find it fascinating that some of the most prominent and highly rated artists of all time were troubled by mental illness and many driven to suicide.

Surely there must be a link between the sensitivity and depth of emotion one feels and their ability to express these feelings and experiences in so much depth. Why does brilliance have to be balanced by vulnerability? Is it not possible for intelligence to be magnified without magnified depression? Is it simply because in order to access new ideas and think outside the box, someone’s mind has to be out of the box itself?

So many notorious and intelligent people fueled their strong works of art with the intensity of their emotion. I’m infatuated with the idea that mental illness can break through literary, artistic and thespian narratives to bring something outrageously modern and forward thinking into each era. In this case forward thinking could be, and often was, considered insanity. Not until the rest of the world catches up with the emotional intelligence that people like Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh experienced so intensely in one lifetime, is society able to accept that their work is in fact brilliant and not just a misunderstanding.

Is it a risky game to believe that we should listen to people who express mental illness through creative means with the theory that in centuries to come we will look back on their insanity as pure genius?

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