On Madness and Creativity

In response to Claudette’s weekly writing challenge #10: Discernment

Much madness is divinest sense
to a discerning eye;
Much sense, the sharpest madness
Emily Dickinson

I found this quote a few days ago. Seeing as Claudette’s weekly writing challenge is the word Discernment, I let the quote take me into a thought path that I haven’t visited for some time. It dovetailed into several other things as well.

There are some myths about the close relationship between Madness and the Creative Genius, and because most myths are based somewhere in a bit of truth, the subject is well worth looking into. Scientific research has been able to link the two in some respects. The intensity and focus associated with creative endeavors, and the natural let-down when the project is completed seems to mirror the manic-depressive mood swings of Bi-polar Disorder. That however, does not mean they are one and the same.

For centuries, we have thought of Creativity as the rare domain of a gifted few…the Artists. When in all reality creative energy is inherent in all individuals. There would be no growth, no progress, or evolution if that were not the reality. But, the human mindset is toward the making, creating of hierarchies, linear progressions that move up or down. Thus, the majority of individuals might find themselves on the low end when it comes to artistic skill and ability. Crafts and hobbies, versus Art with a capital A.

My mind jumps to numerous examples. My father, who late in life, finally had the time and space to set up a woodworking shop in the basement. He made tables, toys for his grandchildren, plant holders, and even clocks. One of his creations hangs on my living room wall, while another holds a green plant that was given to me as a gift and holds a place of prominence in the same room. My Mother’s painting which wasn’t begun until after she turned sixty and had a bout with cancer.

These things are considered hobbies, no more than craft projects, yet they are beautiful in their own right, and entail hours of learning and work. And therein, might be considered a bit mad. Why all the time and effort put into things that will never bring about material success or public recognition (although my mother did have a one woman local showing of her artistry, and Dad did sell a few of his creations)?

The rest of the world might disagree, but I would and do define both of my parents as Artists. What’s more, I define myself as such, as well. I write and I color. Both of those things are creative endeavors. They bring hours of satisfaction, personal pleasure, and a great deal of creative beauty into my life and the lives of those around me. In the world’s eye, I might never be successful because I don’t make money at what I do, nor do I gain a great deal of public recognition for any of it. So, does that make it madness to continue?

Because we have created this sort of High End/Low End scale of artistic talent, we have also created an elite group of those who can, and a majority of others who wish they could. Personally, I think that is madness. I heartily agree with Emily Dickinson on this one. She retreated into her room, was seen as an eccentric by most, and never recognized as an American Poet of some amount of skill and ability until after her death. Did she care? Who really knows? She followed her own path and now we can take part, and find pleasure in her creations.

Emily, in her white clothing and isolation, stepped completely outside the norm of the society she inhabited. At the time, that was called, and defined as Madness, yet today it is defined as Artistry of a superior nature. And I think that is what troubles me about this seeming connection between Madness and Creativity. I think we might have it all backwards.

Instead of looking at Creative Genius and comparing it to Madness, we might be far better off turning that all around and perhaps looking more closely at our definitions and the affect they might be having on the individuals who are concerned. I think there are a great many individuals out there who want, maybe even yearn to explore their creative energies and get blocked by the fear of being defined as nuts should they do so.

That was brought home to me when I got peripherally involved in a discussion going on at


What started as one man writing about his personal choice to quit his well-paying job in order to pursue his personal interests, turned into months of discussion from around the globe. The discussion continues into the present, and actually centers around the idea of doing exactly what Emily Dickinson did. She opted out of the role society defined as hers as a woman, and followed her bliss. Again, was that madness? From her words, I think not.

Creative energy is an element of healing. Our creative endeavors heal our souls. Bring them peace in a chaotic and over-stimulated environment. Because that is real, our creative endeavors, no matter if they are “high” or “low”, also alter and change our world. The peace I find in coloring a pretty design, ripples outward to anyone I come in contact with.

The opposite of all of that is the thought that at least some of the madness in the world today, might just be blocked creative genius. Madness that is seeking healing, yet is blocked from ever participating in that healing. Can’t get past the barriers of definition that have been placed on it. Emily might have been considered a bit ‘mad’ in her day, but was she? Or, was she just an individual who realized that she only had one life to live, and wrote poetry instead of making friends, getting married, and perhaps dying in childbirth? Leaving the generations that came after her with a gap of silence about death and its many emotional and psychological ramifications and definitions?

Emily wrote poetry. I write poetry. She wrote about her memories, and about death. I write about memories, and changes. She favored white dresses. I favor soft colorful flannel lounging pants. She was a recluse. I often call myself a quasi-hermit. She was considered a bit mad and eccentric. I believe I am considered a bit strange, but funny as well. She populated her world with words. I do the same and have added a great deal of color. Are we the same? Yes, in some respects, no in others.

I once wrote that one of the people I would really like to meet is Emily Dickinson, but if we did, she probably wouldn’t speak because of shyness. That’s okay, because I could certainly talk enough for both of us.

Hello Emily. My name is Elizabeth. I just recently realized that your middle name is the same. Isn’t that a wonderful piece of synchronicity? I hope you don’t mind, but I intend to enter your name in my personal Hall of Heroes.

She would think I was Mad! That’s okay, that just gives us more common ground.


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here: https://1sojournal.wordpress.com/ http://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/ http://claudetteellinger.wordpress.com/
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6 Responses to On Madness and Creativity

  1. diddums says:

    Similar thoughts have been going through my mind lately — about creativeness, opting out, only having one life to life, biases, definitions of Art etc. 🙂


  2. 1sojournal says:

    Where did they take you, and what did you decide about all of that? I have decideded that if what I do is madness, then that is okay. My ‘madness’ is peopled with pleasure and contentment, and that’s a whole lot better than the ‘sanity’ I can see or read about any day of the week.


    PS…Besides, my madness might give me an in with Emily, should we ever chance to meet, lol.


  3. diddums says:

    I would say that having a comfortable and satisfactory life is one thing, but if we never stop to ask ourselves where we are going with this or that pursuit, then it’s a bit of a mindless existence.

    I was reading an article in a paper about a 30-something who says it’s particularly important in these days of mass unemployment not to link one’s sense of self-worth to one’s career. I was thinking “yes, good,” but also “I thought everyone knew this!”

    It’s particularly important, I think, for society to have a more flexible mindset about others and what they do, and how we are all to survive (and be happy).

    (Climbs off soapbox). Thank you. 🙂


  4. 1sojournal says:

    There are way too many things that most people simply don’t stop and think about at all. You’ve hit on some of them, but there are lots more. I am applauding as you step down, maybe you should do that more often?



  5. diddums says:

    (Bows)… thank you. 🙂
    Given half the chance, I do, though I tend to think I had too much to say in my twenties… I wake up in the middle of the night asking myself “did I REALLY say that??” which causes me to think twice now. I’m not sure that it makes any difference, though — I still say just enough to get off on the wrong foot with some folk… LOL!


  6. 1sojournal says:

    You must remember that old adage: at any given moment, no matter the size of the group, chances are that fifty percent of those present would disagree with whatever you have to say. However, that said, it isn’t a good enough reason to remain silent. There are always the other fifty percent.



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