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Is the content of mentally-ill writers and artists always more disturbing?

People who live with mental illnesses spend their lives in a state of heightened anxiety and stress, and if they’re creative, this often comes through in their work. Arguably some of the greatest contributions to horror, particularly in literature, were written by people with really severe mental health problems, among them Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Caitlin Kiernan. Even works made by artists who don’t want their mental illness to be so obvious can be darker than they first appear. For instance, many of the deep cuts of the famous rock star Jon Bon Jovi, who struggles with depression, are much more disturbing than the songs that made him a household name. So, are all mentally-ill creatives fated to create dark, creepy, or depressing content? What specific aspects of a creator’s mental illness might inform the darker aspects of their work? Are there any mentally-ill artists whose art remains entirely untouched by their illness?

  • This is a super interesting idea. I'd also be interested in how we prognosticate mentally ill creators and whether we should attribute that to how they write, particularly with horror, which is fraught with messy portrayals of mentally ill people. I think about this especially about EAP and HPL. I don't know what Kiernan's mental health issues are, but she tends to be able to represent mentally ill characters very well. But because EAP and HPL were never formally diagnosed, it can be hard to attribute that label and therefore the extent to which it influenced their work. HPL's severe neurosis and illnesses could be attributed to his mother convincing him he was sick (psychosomatic) and emotionally abusing him, anxiety, some have suggested he was autistic, some combo, etc. His anxieties do seem to come through on the page, but I'd also suggest his philosophical thoughts on mechanical materialism also influence the bleakness of his work. – Emily Deibler 1 year ago
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  • I think this needs perhaps a psychologists perspective. Not all mentally troubled people focus on darker work. There are notable exceptions such as Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Stephen Fry for instance that have excelled in comedic endeavours. It would be interesting to look at what makes certain individuals create the fa├žade of happiness and what allows other to really embrace their troubles. – AshleyStevens 1 year ago
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  • The conflation of Poe with his work is extremely problematic. Poe is not his narrators. Nor was he clinically mentally ill. There is no clear record of that. Poe had a difficult life and his reputation was damaged by the jealous editor Rufus Griswold, who was not even one fragment the writer or critic that Poe was. – rockandrollbob 1 year ago
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  • It also seems a bit problematic to not only lump every single artist or creative that has any form of mental illness under one umbrella but your thesis that they are only capable of creating works of art that is disturbing is somewhat offensive. To say that someone suffering from mental illness can only create art that is worrying seems diminutive to an entire section of society. Vincent van Gogh was clearly disturbed and yet created beautiful painting such as The Starry Night or Almond Blossoms. You need to rework this whole idea or at least remove "always" from the title. I'm sure this is coming from a place of genuine intrigue but please be considerate of the community in which this represents. – FarPlanet 1 year ago
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  • This is a challenging topic to discuss, but that's what makes it so very intriguing. As FarPlanet stated, it can be problematic with generalization if not written/discussed carefully. With that being said, I'd like to offer up my own thoughts on the matter. As someone who struggles with mental illnesses and is studying to be a psychologist, I think the writing CAN be more disturbing, but it is nowhere near always. From where I stand, a handful of mentally ill artists/writers write with a specific emotional depth that many people don't feel for themselves. Sometimes, the depths can be scary... Take psychological thrillers, for example. The mind is a scary place, and the ways in which it can be manipulated are far more terrifying. I would love to write extensively about this topic. I like that it can be approached by the audience, artists/writers themselves in addition to psychologists. It might be a good idea to first isolate the root question here before naming well-known artists/writers in order to keep the discussion open and relevant so as not to rub anyone the wrong way. – Abie Dee 1 year ago
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