Does Despair breed Creativity?

Apr 7th, 2015

I’ve thought about this long and hard for the last five years.

Despair – “the complete absence or loss of hope“.

Creativity – “the use of imagination or original ideas, especially in production of an artistic work”.

Do you need to despair to be creative?

Experiencing various physical and mental ailments (from grief, to depression, to madness and sadness), many artists throughout history sought refuge in the expression of creativity in art. Either while going through their illness, or coming out of it. Like Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Munch and many other artists of all disciplines and ancestries.

But were they desperate? Without hope? Maybe, at some point in their journey. What fascinates me is how the theoretical absence of hope, translates to original imagination leading to production. Real output. Paintings. Prints. Photographs. Theatre. Music. Composition. Sculpture. Performance art. Digital design. Story telling. Film. Television. Radio. From the avant-garde, the surrealist, the contemporary to the modern and all points in between. Things you can visually see, touch, hear and experience.

There have been many studies examining the link of mental health with creative production. Arnold M. Ludwig (1995) The Price of Greatness: Resolving the Creativity and Madness Controversy ISBN 978-0-89862-839-5 is one such tome. Christopher Zara (2012). Tortured Artists. Avon, Mass: Adams Media. p. 272. ISBN 1440530033 is another.

But I can only speak to a personal narrative.

I lost my mother in November 2010 after many, undiagnosed years of a debilitating illness called progressive supra-nuclear palsy. Think of Parkinson’s on steroids. When she fell and broke her C1 and C2 cervical vertebrae in her late 70s, somehow avoiding becoming a quadriplegic, her life’s journey took another twist that, in so many ways, enriched us, insisting on maintain Ukrainian Canadian traditions like Paska (Easter), from her hospital trauma unit.

Three days after my mother died, my father-in-law passed away. A proud man of Irish & Canadian ancestry, a 1940s Canadian boxing champion, and a successful CIL salesman who raised a strong-willed family of achievers. But thanks to his primary schooling in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, a guy who learned to say his prayers in Ukrainian (of which I was reminded on every possible occasion, including and especially on St. Patrick’s Day).

And just three weeks before my mother died, my younger and only sibling was diagnosed with ALS. On November 11, 2012, Remembrance Day, my sister died. A proud, strong and totally independent chick whose stoic personality belied the humanity and warmth that guided her love for her family and friends. Needless to say, the Ice Bucket Challenge resonated for me on many different conflicting levels which I have yet to reconcile.

Does despair breed creativity? You bet it does.

From 2010 to 2015, I built and grew my photography business, carving out my vision, voice and visuals. At the same time, I pivoted in Canada’s federal public service. Becoming a practicing digital professional, creating my public service brand, and leapfrogging to develop, test & use new social and technological skills while simultaneously innovating ideas and projects like SPINE. All while raising a family of four young boys. And trying to make sense of life.

What I’ve learned is that despair driven creativity can be hollow. The trick is to figure out how to use the process for good, and not evil.

And I’ve also learned that I am not alone. Many others have experienced different versions of my narrative. All it took was for me to talklisten and understand that this is a universal experience.

While my creative journey hasn’t stopped, nor has it become easier, it certainly has become enriched and emboldened.

Because anything worthwhile is worth fighting for.

And of course, defeat is not an option.


vision | voice | visuals mine