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You call it Madness, I call it Music

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I'm crying just for you. by  James V. Monaco. New York, Broadway Music Corp., 1913.
I'm crying just for you. by James V. Monaco. New York, Broadway Music Corp., 1913.

The brooding artist type: you know one, you’ve been one, you’ve seen one in the coffeshop thinking deep thoughts and crying as they type furiously into their laptop. But does depression help or hinder creative thought? Last year the Coolidge Auditorium hosted a symposium on “Depression and Creativity” as part of the “Music and the Brain” lecture series. The symposium was part of the Library’s bicentennial celebration of composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), who died after a severe depression following the death of his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, also a gifted composer. Kay Redfield Jamison,  co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and author of “Touched with fire” and other volumes addressing the at times volatile state of the creative mind, led the discussion. Watch “Depression and Creativity“, part of the Music and the Brain playlist on the Library of Congress’s YouTube channel. And remember, you can subscribe to Music and the Brain podcasts on iTunes.

If you’re in Washington tonight, February 26th, come hear the latest in the series Music and the Brain II with Why Do Listeners Enjoy Music That Makes Them Weep?” Prof. David Huron, Head of the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory, Ohio State University, is our guest speaker.  The lecture begins at 6:15 in room LJ-119, on the first floor of the Jefferson Building.

To our readers of a creative bent: do you feel that depression is an obstacle to creativity, or is there method in your madness?

Comments (3)

  1. Depression is a part of of the human condition. As artists are sensitive beings, they deal in translating through their consciousness the human condition. So, I guess my answer is that creative people are exeedingly brave to utilize the ebb and flow of their consciousness to create. Cognitive inquiry needs to approach the artist not as one with handicaps, but one that seeks to utlilize their human experience to create. The question posed sound more like the artist as a mental case rather than an grand intuitive thinker. As a teacher of teens, I firmly believe that self expression is the key to recognizing the more unpleasant parts of the human condition like depression, and taking control of it. So, I think the question may be better aptly stated as “How does the artist use depression in the process of creativity?”

  2. considering that the brooding artist often creates brilliant art, i think the question answers itself. but looking deeper into what it seems your asking; is there a method to the madness? what is the big secret to why brooding seems to produce good art? the artist job is to create feelings. the ability to experience depression gives the artist a more expansive vision of a complex emotion state, which i have found, keeps me grounded in reality, as i tend to be easily inspired and moved. my brain needs a rest and something to remind me that life is fragile, and feeling good is sometimes hard, thus giving me more of an incentive to create emotions for other people. i have an amazing world inside my brooding creative mind that i feel it is unfair to the world for me to not share it. the artist knows what emotions are good for you to feel, then creates them for you. the brooding artist is none to be admired, as we pay dearly for our idealistic arrogant romance with life. if the artist wasn’t arrogant, he would have no incentive to voice anything, as he would be too humble to believe that he has a unique experience with life and that it is necessary to share with the world. so the arrogant, selfish, brooding artist whose art changes your life, should be given a break, considering that the artist enriches our lives beyond the experiences within our own mind, and if we are going to exploit his abilities, to capitalize on his talents, then we must learn to live with him, without desiring that he change.

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