Creativity Can Cause Anxiety

Being Creative Means Taking Risks

Creativity involves a thought that goes beyond the generally accepted, provokes anxiety in others and tests the security of one’s own perceptions. – Peter Lomas in Cultivating Intuition

Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity. – T. S. Eliot

Surreal image of a ghostly face, and a woman flying near the Eiffel Tower

Strong innovation, striking originality, and prolonged gestation periods can all generate feelings of anxiety.

These quotes may explain why so many great creators show signs of psychological stress. Depression is famously common among writers, for example. However, this is not to say that mental disorder is necessary for creativity to flourish.

Artists Put Creative Vision First

Generally, creators do not care about genres, or techniques, or disciplines except as they can use these things as instruments of their creative vision. In other words, what creators have learned about their art becomes a mere tool kit – a means – pressed into the service of generating their art. Rather than committing to one particular genre, technique, or discipline, they will use whatever looks most likely to get them where they want to go. If one genre, say, can get the job done, so be it. They will specialize. If not, they will employ as many others as required. This flexible but ill-defined and uncertain attitude can induce anxiety.

Aristotle’s Melancholy vs. Plato’s Divine Mania

The 15th century philosopher Marsilio Ficino equated Aristotle’s “melancholy” with Plato’s “divine mania.” I think this is off the mark. Melancholy is the quiescent state of the creator, a sort of pensive sadness. The mood is a symptom of the gestation period that so often precedes great creative outbursts. The divine mania refers to the excited state of the creator when he is in the throes of creation. Virginia Woolf referred to this as being in a state of “white heat.” Hermann Hesse often wrote in intense periods of productivity after a long, sometimes depressed, stretch of what one biographer described as “living out his ideas.” Since creators define themselves by the act of creating, the inactivity of a prolonged gestation period generates anxiety by way of cognitive dissonance. That is, what we do and what we think we should do are not aligned.

Jung on Dreams, Reveries and Fantasies

Many people dismiss their dreams, reveries, and fantasies as having little value. They view these chaotic nighttime events or daytime idle fancies as mere by-products or side effects of the deliberate, more-productive mental processes. Worrying about time “wasted” in reverie is another way to drift into anxiety-inducing cognitive dissonance.  As one might expect, Jung took an entirely different view. In his Alchemical Studies he writes, “Despise not the ash for it is the diadem of thy heart, and the ash of things that endure.” Savvy artists would agree with him completely.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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