Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Van Gogh was Crazy, Too, You Know

According to a study published Monday in Nature Neuroscience, a genetic link can be found between creativity and the cray-cray. The full study is behind a paywall, so I can't parse it for you myself. However, Science Alert has a rundown of the study, and The Verge makes some fair points in criticizing it. Basically, the study looked at people with genetic markers for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and then looked at people working in "creative" industries, such as art, acting, music, dance, and writing. It found that people working in these industries were more likely to carry these genetic variants than people in other types of jobs.

Greeeeeat, I thought as I looked at these articles. More pressure to be brilliant.

I'm the only child of an exceptionally talented artist. My father paints, plays music, and is an internationally published poet. One of my aunts was a professional dancer. Another is a TV editor. Another of my aunts and my cousin are both graphic artists. My uncle is a musician and an actor. I come from a family of "creatives." From the day I was born, there was pressure on me to have some sort of artistic talent.

When it became clear that I was also mentally ill, the pressure mounted.

We've always known there was a link between creativity and insanity. Vincent van Gogh is the first person who usually comes to mind (he's even the cover image on the Science Alert article), but the link has been noted throughout human history. It's a well-worn cliche that if you're crazy, you're brilliant in some fashion.

And I'm just... not. Sure, I write, and cut up tee-shirts, and make videos. Occasionally I can be found absolutely killing the Karaoke party with my rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" (I also kill 'em with "Rehab," but that's because it's hilarious). But I'm nowhere near the level that I've observed is expected of me based on my genetics, and now, apparently, more genetics.

"Van Gogh was crazy, too, you know." Yes, I know! Everybody knows.

Not everybody with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia is a van Gogh. We can't all be. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that about 13.6 million adults in the United States alone "live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder." There are not 13.6 million van Goghs anywhere. There was only one, and we're not him.

But I think that's okay. It has to be okay. I can do my fun projects, and you can do yours, and maybe one or two of our 13.6 million-plus brothers and sisters will be at Vincent level. It will never be me, but at least I'm doing my best and having a pretty good time of it.