Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Creative ability-Psychological aspects, Affective disorders, Artists-Mental health, Manic-depressive illness, Depression, Mental, Artist, Bipolar, Depression, Creative process, Interplay


The purpose of this qualitative study was to provide a deeper understanding of the complex reciprocal interplay between an artist's diagnosable mood symptoms and his or her creative process through the personal narrative of the artists. To this end, 15 artists of both solitary and performance orientated disciplines were interviewed utilizing a semi-structured open-ended interview format. These artists included painters, poets, an actor, a performing artist, vocalists and musicians, who had all considered themselves to be professional artists for at least five years. As part of the inclusion criteria, each of the artists had been diagnosed with either Depression (Dysthymia or Major Depressive Disorder) or Bipolar Disorder (I or II or Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), by a mental health worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Lee's (2008) attribution of the transient creative benefit of hypomania being as a result of the "increased energy, confidence, enthusiasm and fluency of ideas and the long lasting creative benefits of depression as allowing greater depths of insight, sensitivity and awareness (p. 10)," have both been upheld by many reports of the participant artists. Within the severe extremes of depression and mania creative productivity was either extremely difficult in the case of a severe depression or chaotic and without technique. Often, however, reflections and insight gleaned in these extreme states could later creatively be used when the artist became more stable. If one is not able to cognitively problem solve or work through the emotional experience via the creative process, then it is possible that one could be passively pulled into a whirlpool of chaotic emotions. The theory that a third variable is necessary in order to creatively transform the extreme emotions resulting from a mood episode was also held up by my qualitative findings. This third variable is described by Guestello et al. (2004, p263), as emotional intelligence which is the cognitive ability to "accurately perceive, appraise and express emotion." Each artist had his or her own vocabulary for describing this transformation of emotion into art, which supported the concept of "working through" of emotion through cognition, as posited by Ludwig (1995). While conducting a thematic analysis of their narratives I found several unexpected themes that were extremely important to the artist's healthful transformative experience of affect, filtered through cognition, within the creative process. They are as follows: 1) achieving a sense of mastery and competence; 2) having a need to contribute to the world and to communicate to others; 3) sensing that the art transcends itself, that it partook of something greater such as Beauty or the Human Condition; 4) sensing a separation from self during the process of creating; 5) achieving a sense of timelessness and fluidity during the process, (sometimes called being in the "zone) and 6) creating of symbolic representations of personal emotions and thoughts, within the art itself. I then described the healthful ramification of these themes through the lens of Self Psychology, using Winnicott's concept of the transitional space and Kohut's theory of the selfobject function as fulfilling the needs of the tripartite self. AN




iii, 81 p. : col. ill. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2011. Includes bibliographical references (p. 69-72)