Psychosis

Is Psychosis a Prerequisite for Art?

Does art require psychosis-like thought?

Posted Mar 18, 2011

In my reply to David Niose's article "Why Corporations Are Psychotic", I wrote:

"Many people who are psychosis-prone contribute positively to society. Without psychosis, art would suck and imagination would run dry."

I appreciate Leon Seltzer's reply to my reply, in which he comes up with a very reasonable middle ground between my position and Niose's. However, in one of his notes, he objects to my statement about the linkage between psychosis and art and remarks that losing touch with reality is not a prerequisite for art and saying so is insulting to artists.

I think some clarification is in order. I do believe that If the mental processes associated with psychosis were evaporated entirely from this world, art would suck. But so would a lot of other things that require imagination.

The thing is, and many people don't realize this, psychosis is on a continuum (see "Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist's Experience"). Too much psychosis and one is at high risk of going mad. But everyone engages in psychosis-related thought any time they use their imagination. This type of thought activates particular regions of the brain and is especially prominent while day-dreaming and night-dreaming (see "Why Daydreamers Are More Creative").

Without the ability to transcend immediate reality, art would lose its creativity. Far from insulting artists, I think it makes us appreciate artists even more, and their ability to show us worlds that may not exist yet, but are possible.

So is extreme, deabilitating psychosis a prerequisite for art? Absolutely not. Severe mental illness is nothing to take lightly, and can make it very difficult to produce art (see "For an Artist, Life Reborn After a Battle With Psychosis"). Seltzer is absolutely correct: saying otherwise would be insulting to artists.

But I think the ability to lose touch with reality at least a little bit is crucial to producing creative art. And far from insulting artists, it should give us more of an appreciation of the way artists in particular, and creative people more generally, think. Psychosis is a loaded term, but it doesn't have to be. Hopefully by viewing psychosis on a spectrum, we can avoid black-and-white stereotypes about artists as well as those who are psychosis-prone.

Note: The beautiful painting included in this post was done by Leonid Afremov.

© 2011 by Scott Barry Kaufman

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