Melancholy and creativity


It is easy to understand that positive feelings can be beneficial to creativity, and creativity itself can create happiness and satisfaction. However, this does not mean that negative state of mind necessarily has to be counter to being creative.

Creativity can be an escape away from the negative thoughts and therefore a stimulus to be creative. But conversely, many artists also let their negative emotions be expressed in art.

”Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity”

                       – T S Eliot

Melancholy is a state of soulful vulnerability with pain and negative emotions. In this state of mind, the self-centered thoughts focus on oneself and one’s own context. This introspective exploration of one’s own emotional life can provide important keys to creativity.

Melancholy provides an oportunity for self-knowledge and explorations of the inner strengths. The negative feelings in melancholy that contrast to the happy and positive emotions can thus be a rich source for growing as a human being.

Melancholic emotions have also been captured by many artists and inspired the creation of banal songs of lost love but also of artistic masterpieces, such as Albrecht Dürer’s engraving “Melencolia“, Edward Munch’s painting “The Scream” (painted in a melancholic state but rather expressing anxiety), Chopin’s Sonat Opus 35 “The Funeral March“, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 in B moll “Pathetiqué” (as seen by some as a suicide note – Tchaikovsky died nine days after the performance) and the whole blues genre.

Discontent with life can also at best trigger an effort to achieve something better in life, which can be a good reason for creativity.

Melancholy borders to depression, but does not carry the same resignation as seen in a full-blown depression. While depression is only pain, there is in the melancholy elements of reflection on lost people, places and things that we have loved and appreciated, and which we now remember and miss.

This gives the melancholy a taste of sweetness that is lacking in depression. In the reflective melancholy, one tries to recreate memories and feelings of what has been lost, which makes the melancholic person often seeking solitude.

The melancholic state of mind, despite its place in the creative process, is not a desirable emotion, but if you unwittingly end up there, you have the opportunity to make use of it to explore your creative expressions.

It has even happened that artists consciously and actively have tried to penetrate into the darker parts of the spiritual corners of their soles, e.g. to explore a character in a novel or to get musical inspiration. However, if one has a latent depression, this may be a riskfull endeavour.

This post has been inspired by

Carson Shelley (2010). Your creative brain. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass *

Torrance EP (1986). Intense emotional experiences: Impetus to creation. Creative Child and Adult Quarterly. 11:130–137.

Brady E, Haapala A (2003). Melancholy as an aesthetic emotion. Contemporary Aesthetics.

svensk_flagga  Detta blogginlägg på svenska

Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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