Addictions and Art

By Oreskovic, Anto; Bodor, Davor | Alcoholism, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Addictions and Art


Oreskovic, Anto, Bodor, Davor, Alcoholism


Summary -

This paper examines addictions problems in art. We explained potential modalities of this relationship with emphasis on the creativity and the role of self medication related to latent psychopathological features such as mood disorders. While recent research did not provide sufficient information regarding this topic, the questions would the artists' creative output have been enhanced had they not been addicted to substances and what impact the addictive substances had on their ability to function as creative artists, still remain. An evaluation of the evidence of the link between creativity and substance abuse, especially alcohol, is presented.

Keywords: addictions; creativity; alcohol; psychoactive substances

INTRODUCTION

Although the problem of addictions among artistic circles is well known, there are insufficient studies in which authors tried to investigate their influence and role in the artist's life. Doubt is often raised whether substance abuse was necessary in order to accomplish a creative potential, or substance abuse prevented the full expansion of artistic talent. Wider social environment's stereotypical perception is very often forgotten, and it often considers writers or artists' experiences with psychoactive substances as completely normal socializing experiences and latent or obvious attempts of artists to fit into such social expectations. Furthermore, a broader social stereotype implies that alcohol itself provides artists with inspiration. Some aspects, such as Iatent mental health issues in artists, related self-medication and anxiety connected with creative processes are pushed aside.

Why artists use psychoactive substances?

Pathographies of many famous writers, composers and painters contain descriptions of the devastating effects of substance abuse on their life journey (E. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald...).8-10 Most papers explored the prevalence of alcoholism among artists and writers, such is the survey conducted by Nancy J. Andreasen where 30 % of writers suffered from alcoholism. When talking about the prevalence of addiction in art circles, there are studies which undoubtedly concluded that writers and actors are more susceptive to substance abuse than mathematicians or physicists.

There are many possible reasons why artists are considered to be much more affected by the substance abuse problems than general population. Jane Piirto, Ph. D., director of Talent Development Education at Ashland University notes in her article »The creative process in Poets«1 that the altered mental state brought by substances has been thought to enhance creativity to a certain extent.

Polish psychiatrist Dabrowski and psychologist Michael Oiechowski used the term of »emotional over-excitability«2 describing the influences of external stimuli on individual's nervous system and the capacity to feel and notice the same. Those with less sensitive nervous systems are better adapted to our more crowded living conditions. The more sensitive ones can only attempt to ease their discomfort by blunting their perceptions with alcohol or depressive drugs or, alternatively, by using conscience-altering drugs to transport their senses from the dysphoric world in which they live to private worlds of their own.

A concept related to excitability is »CNS augmenters«3 who have central nervous systems which augment or enhance the impact of sensory input, so being an augmenter is linked to substance abuse.

Freudian psychology implied that creativity is a sublimation of aggressive and sexual impulses or a response to emotional pain. A domineering, cold mother or any kind of unhappy childhood, according to this view, causes neurosis and anxiety. Proponents of this view point out that those same anxieties would cause alcoholism in writers and other artists.

It is very significant to point out the problem of latent mental health issues in artists and related self-medication. …

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