Sunday, May 31, 2009

Creativity and Depression

The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression
What a great way to celebrate 500 blog posts - write about depression!! But I've been wanting to write about this book - The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression- for a week or more, even though I haven't finished reading it yet. So now's the time. I've also been thinking about the topic over the past two days while I've been attending the Reading Matters conference.

Why? Because several of the writers talked about problems with writing - getting stuck on a book that's not working (Bernard Beckett) or having to set a daily word target because of frittering away hours (James Roy) or realising that even when she was in a quiet room at Varuna, she still wrote at the same slow pace (Alison Goodman). We all struggle with our writing. In fact, James Roy quoted someone who said if you find writing easy, then you're not a writer! For me, attending the conference and listening to so many terrific writers talk about their craft is one of the ways I overcome creative slumps.

It would be easy, however, to sit and listen to them talk, see all their books on the bookshop tables, and think - Why am I bothering? Why don't I give up now? In "The Van Gogh Blues", Maisel talks a lot about this feeling, and why creative artists (writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, etc) experience it. Sometimes it can lead to a terrible depression, rather than fleeting feelings of despair, and he also talks about the necessity of getting to grips with reality - that you do have to pay the bills, you do often have to have a job which squeezes out time for creating. I know several people, excellent creators, who have indeed given up and gone off to do something completely different.

There is so much in this book that to try and summarise it in a couple of paragraphs is misleading. So I will pick out some of the things that, so far, have struck a chord with me. One is that you can opt to matter, that instead of buying into the whole notion that life itself is meaningless and we're just here until we die, you can choose to make your own life meaningful through creating. Think about how many people you know who either just exist, or who are waiting for whatever they think the afterlife might offer (and they say it's got to be better than here). Maisel says that for a creative person, neither of these attitudes will work. It is only by choosing to make your own life matter through your creations that you will find what you need.

He also discusses those artists for whom meaning is based in the marketplace. Becoming famous, making lots of money, receiving great reviews - none of these will feed into creating what matters for you. It has to reside inside you to endure, and you have to keep "opting to matter" rather than let it slide. It's also about being connected with the world - about caring for others as well as yourself, not letting your ego move you into ruthless behaviour or lording it over others.

Your decision to matter, to fuel your own creativity, comes from self-understanding. Maisel says, "Until you come to grips with your personality and your human nature and can say 'This is who I am and this is who I am choosing to become', not only will meaning elude you but so will a genuine enthusiasm for life." He goes on to talk about your personal power supply, how many people are "slowed down by the facts of existence" and lose their own energy and creative power.

As I said, I'm still only halfway through this book. There is so much in it - and I'm not suffering from depression, yet I do have periods of feeling totally uncreative and wondering how on earth I can get out of it. Maybe when I've finished it, I'll write more about the subject.
In the meantime, to celebrate Blog Post Number 500, I'm offering a prize!! Anyone who posts a comment about this whole thing of creativity and/or depression will go in the draw to win a copy of my latest book, Tracey Binns is Lost. If you post as Anon, please do put a name of some kind at the bottom!


Anonymous said...

I love this post - what a great way to celebrate 500! I really like the phrase 'opting to matter', and think we can all do with sitting back and really considering why we are writing. I think unfortunately most writers experience at least some low level aspects of depression - self-doubt, uncertainty, anxiety. But viewing your creativity as 'opting to matter' is such a great way to put it all into perspective. I'm putting this book down on my reading list.


PS. I was going to comment even before I read about the comp, but would love the chance to win a copy of the latest Tracey Binns book! (fingers crossed)

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Really appreciated this post, Sherryl. I don't have clinical depression but I hover on the outskirts of it occasionally - usually when my confidence is at a low level. But I can overcome it by the knowledge that it will only last a day or two - why does it happen? It's crazy because I know I have so much to be grateful for in my life. Anyway, thanks for your very positive post, and I'll search out that book. :)

Sherryl said...

Katherine - I think part of it is the constant presence of rejection. If you take it personally, it can be really debilitating. But if you create because it matters to you, then the "marketplace of rejection" won't have as much influence on you. That's his theory, anyway!

Sherryl said...

Sheryl - I think there are different levels of depression, and Maisel doesn't really differentiate. All depression in creative artists is significant because it interferes with our ability to create. I've just finished the chapter on drug and alcohol addictions and why so many creators fall that way. Again, he doesn't differentiate between alcoholics and those for whom drinking affects their creative abilities. It's more about why you go down that path, and how you can avoid it.

Lorraine said...

Congrats on your 500th post, Sherryl. An achievement, indeed!

Kristi Holl said...

I've only read the intro of the book, but it's very interesting so far. That "opting to matter" reminds me of the self-talks when my kids were babies and toddlers, and I was trying to convince myself that being home with them really did matter and would make a difference! (It did.) Creating meaning is necessary in most parts of our lives, I bet.

Sherryl said...

Thanks, Lorraine!

Kristi - I think you're right. Wherever we are in our lives, we need to feel that there are core things that matter, and that we will put our energy into. To feel that nothing matters, that not even the biggest effort will make any difference, is an awful way to live.

Claire said...

Congratulations Sherryl! The RM conference is invigorating and inspiring. Part of that is the speakers, but it's also just being among like-minded people, I think.

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