In the past, the views that society took towards the mentally ill
were much different than today (for more info, read Foucault's Madness
and Civilization), the mentally ill were to some point revered. To
rephrase, the eccentric were generally revered. The difference would lie in the
amount of otherness represented by the individual, and the amount of social
acceptability of individual pathology. This is a line that I will not draw in
viewed creativity (and love) as a form of divine madness, a loss of rational
control. This can be supported, anecdotally, by the amount of insane creative
geniuses. Van Gogh, Hemmingway, Nietzsche, P.K. Dick, Rachmaninoff, the list
goes on, and some topical research could easily uncover more. Then we have the
artist that we consider "merely" eccentric, such as Dali. Then we
have art that captures madness (as in Hieronymus Bosch). There is an existent
cultural archetype of the insane creative genius, one that has persisted for
If we look closely at the essence of art (and more generally
philosophy, and science), we can analytically see the similarity between
creativity (or more specifically genius), and madness.
Creativity brings the otherworldly, as in either subjective fantasy, or
hitherto unknown truth. Meaning that the genius must delve into the unknown to
bring it to the attention of society. By nature of knowing something that the
masses do not know, the creative are aberrant, meaning they diverge from common
By art I mean any creative work, literary, poetic, musical, or
graphic, and loosely, philosophy. Anything that requires imagination, and
creativity. I will not further define art, for the sake of brevity. For more information on what is
artistic read Kant's Critique of
Pure Judgment, or Nietzscheís Birth
of Tragedy, or many other good philosophical texts on aesthetics.
(Another, and non-related (and tangential) aspect of this train of
thought is ADD/ADHD. Many of the historical instances of great inventors and
renaissance men would probably be diagnosed with attention deficit, and/or
hyperactivity disorder, this is evident though a historical analysis of their
personalities. Evidence can also be seen in the `flighty' nature of their
intellectual endeavor, skipping from one interest to another, one project to
another loosely related one with little provocation except intellectual
curiosity. We can see this in such personalities as DaVinci, Tesla, and
Jefferson, and possibly even the early Thomas Edison.)
In this modern (post-industrial) age, society's view of mental
illness has greatly changed, in keeping with our current industrial paradigm.
By this I mean that our view of the part of the individual has changed, we have
become as parts of a well functioning whole, and each individual must serve a
utilitarian purpose. Norm deviations are now viewed with some aspect of threat
and fear, a stepping out of order, or a failure to do ones productive part.
Insanity, also, in now accepted among all pathologies as a thing to be treated
by modern medicine.
With the drug companies and commercialism, it is becoming more and
more accepted (and culturally enforced, and reinforced) to treat individuals
with drugs for any problem they might have that causes then to step (even temporarily,
or insignificantly) away from the norm. We can see this in the increasing rates
that drugs for treating mental illnesses are prescribed. (We can see this
across the board, actually, and not just for psychiatric drugs) It is not
because there are more mentally ill, or that we are better at diagnosing people
as such, it is because our standards for medicating are lowering. "Better
living through chemistry" is indeed becoming our cultural motto.
Thus, many people who previously (pre-60's) would not have gotten
psychiatric chemical interventions have now. This means that many of the
disorders that we, classically, associated with genius and creativity are being
eradicated by psychiatric treatment. If there is a causal correlation between
insanity, and greatness, then we to some extent also eradicating greatness.
Through our push for conformity, and so-called mental fitness, we lose
something more socially important, great works of creativity, the baring of
human soul, the sense of awe that genius can bring.
As a closing tangent, some would say that the very essence of
humanity is our creative flights, and if we stifle these we are no longer truly
human. If these flights are dictated by psychological pathology, then in
medicating ourselves (and not grappling with our own unique internal states) we
lose some fundamental aspect of our humanity. We lose sight that the
(psychological/social) norm is a concept to judge, and not a place we have a
natural inclination to be.