Tuesday, November 11, 2008

it's still autumn

For those of you (especially if you live in Winterpeg) who got all freaked out at my mention of winter last post, rest assured it's still fall ... for now.
mountain magic

The above drawing comes from a photo I took at Lindeman Lake a year ago.
This photo was taken the same day. As you can see, Zappa and our friends' Lab, Simon, had endless fun that day as only two goofy boydogs can. Less than three months later 10 year old Zappa was dead from cancer. Three days ago I drew this picture and within 24 hours Simon, only eight years old, also died of what looks like the same form of cancer. I like to think they're in doggie heaven now, playing humping games to their hearts' content.

But back to winter and the short, dark days of SAD-generated slumps here on the Pacific Northwest coast. Today was a preview, standing in the pouring rain for our local Remembrance Day service. It was a sobering moment for many reasons. I don't suffer from SAD, but I have my own struggles with an unusual form of depression so it got me thinking of the months ahead and how to keep the lid clamped tightly shut on that sneaky devil. Naturally, the link between creativity and mental illness (or, more melodramatically, 'genius and madness') is a favourite theme with me, and I recently came across this article by
Hara Estroff Marano. It basically pooh-poohs the idea that madness can actually cause creativity by explaining that being successful in a creative field actually requires a lot of hard graft:

Discipline is not a hallmark of minds in the throes of emotional distress. "Despite the carefree air that many creative people effect," says Csikszentmihalyi, "most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not."


Marano has some interesting insights that nevertheless explain the prevalence of depression amongst crazies like us:

...some forms of emotional distress are more common among writers, artists and musicians. Serious depression strikes artists ten times more often than it does the general population. The link, however, is not creativity. Artists are more likely to be self-reflective and to ruminate, to mull things over. And that thinking style—as opposed to creativity itself—is a hallmark of depression and commonly leads to it.

So that's the theory on what causes high incidents of depression amongst artists from The Inside, but feedback from The Outside can also play a role apparently:

It's entirely possible, Weisberg notes, that the elevated rates of mental disorders among artistic geniuses comes about as a result of the creative lifestyle, which hardly provides emotional stability. Many artists struggle against poverty and public indifference in their lifetime. And if they do indeed produce works that are acclaimed, they could succumb to the overwhelming pressure to live up to their earlier successes.

Just reading this reminds me how long it took for me to admit in public that I was no longer a teacher but now one of those penniless freaks who inhaled paint fumes in my basement. But now: yes. Life is good.

21 Comments:

Blogger Ponygirl said...

Andrea, despite the fall you are experiencing, we in Winterpeg are in the full throes of winter already. Snow, ice and below freezing temps are now the norm.

Very interesting about the depression and creativity thing. Good thing you don't suffer from SAD as well - especially living on the Wet Coast, as you do. I lived there for 3 1/2 years and although I also did not get SAD, I was so cold from the wetness seeping through my bones I chose to return to Winterpeg. At least here I can be warm and dry.

I am glad to hear you have come to terms with your artist's lifestyle and have 'come out of the closet', so to speak. Your pictures are wonderful!

11/11/08 5:13 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Andrea, I remember my timein Wa. State. The reasons for the drive thru espresso kiosks became very clear after my first winter. Here, when it isn't snowing it is sunny. There...well, another latte anyone??
My husband suffers (or rather deals) with bipolar, and he isn't an artist, but an accountant. But let me tell you, he is the most creative accountant I have ever met!

11/11/08 5:44 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I love how you interpret landscape photos into art. Something I find so hard as I get lost in the details.

I remember reading something by Oliver Sacks about brain injured patients and how whether their injuries were on their right or left hemispheres had an impact on moodiness and depression. And it does seem the people who go through life without much self reflection are the happiest. I find them hard to be around for long though. Glad life is good right now. (up for cupcakes?)

11/11/08 6:13 PM  
Blogger citizen of the world said...

There's an interesting series of paintings often featured in intro psych books by a man who is becoming increasing psychotic. The cats he draws start out carefully drawn and realistic, and become more and more psychadelic. Creative? Maybe, but not as good.

11/11/08 6:45 PM  
Blogger kj said...

andrea, you deserve every success. this was a timely post for me because i am bracing for winter. what will i do? will i be inside cold or inside warm? will i be "productive, serene, or restless and blobby? these are winter questions. i have them every year.

:)

11/11/08 9:37 PM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

It is a struggle for so many. Me? Well, I cabbot place myself in the artistic genius pigeonhole. Nor am I a of a negative nature. But I'm sure as shootin' not a Pollyanna!
Maybe the fact that I can deal with "heavy stuff" in a quiet corner of my brain without going nuts or annoying others (too much!) means I'm stable and normal?
But...here's the rub...it also means that whenI'm dealing with other issues I cannot even pick up a blade or a pen.
Maybe I should have been a tightrope artiste?

12/11/08 12:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's why I'm always happy when you blog - you seldom fail to provide an interesting fact, detail, quoute, angle, etc.
Anyway, something to think about. Thanks!
Dare I say that I love winter? And this fall has been one of the most beautiful ones in years. I enjoy it every day. So little chance of becoming depressed because of the weather.

12/11/08 8:31 AM  
Blogger Mr Coppens said...

I believe that many Artists experience depression because they are actually thinking about the mysteries of life...a dichotomy which is as marvelous as it is disgusting.

Whatever portion of the brain that enables creative Humans to interpret LIFE needs to find an avenue for colating all of this unrelated yet intertwined data.

Ignorance may be bliss but so is finding a way to express your thoughts.

I watched Clever Monkeys on PBS the other night. They've been around for 40 Million years and all that an opposable thumb and a bigger brain have really produced are complicated, stressful, dangerous, societies.

Along the way a few of our ancestors must have started looking up at the stars and wondered why...
just before they got whacked over the head with a big stick and noticed that they were still seeing stars.

12/11/08 9:19 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I enjoyed reading your timely post - it seems the grumpy meter at our house hits the highest points this time each year. We're trying a tabletop light designed for those with SAD - seems to have lightened the mood(s) considerably.

The connection between depression and self-reflection and rumination makes so much sense, but it makes me think of the chicken and the egg - which comes first? As for public indifference and living up to previous successes - they truly are the most challenging factors within my art practice.

12/11/08 9:24 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Ponygirl: Funny, I was just thinking how our seasons are sort of the opposite of some areas like the east coast: our summers are warm and dry rather than warm and humid, and our winters cold and wet rather than really cold and dry.

Michelle: I laughed out loud at your creative accountant comment. Can I hire him? :)

Ellen: ALways up for cupcakes -- and soon. But what about Socrates and his chestnut "an unreflected life is not worth living?"

Citizen: I think there's a line to cross somewhere in art where a little madnenss is good but too much -- not so much.

KJ: Blobby. I love that. Please don't be blobby! :)

Dinah: I thought you were a tigftrope artiste! :) But don't make the mistake of categorizing negative with depression. Most people would never call me negative and I know many whiners and moaners who've never been depressed a day in their lives. Apples and oranges.

Laura: We've had a pretty nice autumn, too -- lots of colour. But when the rains come, as they did yesterday, the light changes so dramatically that it can cause an immediate reaction. And did. :) And thanks for the nice comment!

Mr C: You know, I often envy those clever monkeys. Eat, sleep, play. That's what we all should focus on. And maybe a little web surfing. :) As for artists, I'm sure the self-imposed isolation doesn't help much...

Barbara: I want a tabletop light, too -- if only to read better because my eyes are aging! :) But you're right about the chicken/egg thing. I think it starts with brain chemistry and pre-disposition and is shaped by life events/environment. After that, you're stuck!!

12/11/08 10:28 AM  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

Beautiful drawing, Andrea. I love how the bright leaves cluster around the gray trunks.

Interesting article. I've always felt that most artists' emotional imbalances could often be attributed to the fact that we tend to open ourselves up more to influences, internal and external, both the ups and the downs, in order to create and express. And that can make us feel those things more intensely than someone who does not delve into such places, and can indeed feel like, and perhaps lead to, insanity at times.

And what's this about cupcakes?

12/11/08 10:40 AM  
Blogger Ponygirl said...

Andrea, here in Winterpeg, the winters are cold and dry, the summers are hot and humid. Opposite of your West Coast. The East Coast, however, has humidity all year long - their winters are notorious for huge dumps of wet snow (read: many feet at once) with lots of wind (which we get too).

I much prefer the dry winters as the bone-chilling dampness (having experienced that) on both coasts just makes me want to live in a hot tub for months. I would probably rot....

12/11/08 11:14 AM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

I think Angela W-R comes pretty close to nailing it.

Off to school now where I am,sadly, seeing early influences...

12/11/08 1:43 PM  
Blogger Ian Lidster said...

In my experience there is huge truth in what you offer here, Andrea. Thank you for this.

And, as for Zappa and Simon, I too had a Simon, he was a Tibetan Terrier, and I suspect he and Murphy are now hanging out with Zappa and your Simon and frolicking through eternity.

12/11/08 7:23 PM  
Blogger andie said...

heehee, crazy artist types.
:)
a.

14/11/08 6:32 AM  
Blogger zooms said...

Thanks for this post Andrea, you put everything in perspective. It is so easy to be nostalgic for winter when living in the sun but two days of constant rain has just reminded me of how I used to just 'sit' and dwell on negative things, when it was cold. My depression devil loves physical inactivity,
keep moving Heather,keep moving.

"Mountain Magic" indeed.
I love the colours, the composition and how you capture the wind in in the trees.

17/11/08 9:23 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Wow! I can SO relate to that! What a great post ... lots of food for thought ... and introspection! lol

17/11/08 12:08 PM  
Blogger onclejohann said...

I know this artist in Baltimore who rarely ventures outside his home, let alone his studio. Would you say he's depressed or just happy with the moment? Maybe depressed isn't the right word. Let's say that he's very happy but also very mad :-)

17/11/08 9:49 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Hey, thanks for all the really great comments. Wish I had more time to respond but... (excuses, excuses...)

18/11/08 12:33 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Andrea, surpriseing as this may be, he has traded creative accounting for art on occasion!!

18/11/08 12:44 PM  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

You are lucky to remain immune to SAD given where we live(I don't always succumb, but some years notice a definite correlation).

Chicken and eggs - but I suspect that the tendency to be 'self-refletive and to ruminate' lends itself to searching for 'outlets' for all this rumination. Creative ones being the most effective. Otherwise, I suspect one would combust (and may do anyhow)...

19/11/08 7:29 PM  

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