Is there any truth to the notion that artists, musicians and other creative people are different, perhaps damaged in some way? That they are both special, and fragile, that exceeding the normal level of creativity naturally leads to in imbalance in other areas, or that creativity comes from madness?
Many creative people might be considered out of the norm. It's almost by definition. High rates of depression seem to correlate with musical ability. Writers, poets and artists seem to have higher levels of depression, mania, drug and alcohol abuse. But a greater than average sensitivity to beauty might also indicated a lower threshold for pain. I recently heard a local civic leader say that a quarter of all the art school students have a diagnosable learning disorder, while the music school students have virtually none.
Looking to myself - yes, I have struggled with depression at various times in my life. I am overly sensitive to all kinds of internal and external stimuli. I do have a skewed way of seeing the world - I first hear and see things quite literally, which can be funny when expressed. I am a visual learner. I seem to have some degree of dyslexia and discalculia, seeing and reading numbers and words both backwards and forewards. I am ambidextrous - I can draw with both left and right hand. I sometimes learn slowly, but I have good recall. I can be really up, and really down - there may be a tendency to manic depression in my family.
On the other hand, I have created out of joy. Not much good comes from depression itself, except perhaps a sense of fragility and compassion for others. Overcoming depression has value. Learning to emerge from depression means really having to think about how I think, feel and act. Overcoming anxiety meant learning to understand myself deeply, to confront my fears. A sharpened blade needs a hard stone, as one of my teachers once told me.
I think the jury is still out. I'd like to think that a highly functional human being in a well-balanced society would be free to create, to express and to innovate, without all of the drama of depression and anxiety. But we live in a world in which art and creativity are still marginal activities, alternatively shunned as weird, or commodified as cute or clever.
I think of art as being research into what it means to be human, and what it is to feel, perceive and enjoy.