Where does creativity come from?

iris grace

Like many of life’s great questions – What is my purpose? How did the universe come to be? And, why can’t 3 day weekends be the norm? – the root cause of a person’s creativity is an ongoing fascination for philosophers and scientists alike.

Today, not for the first time, I read that “Disability is no barrier to creativity.” It was asserted by Leicester University arts expert, Michaela Butter, in the Sun with reference to the extraordinary talent of 3 year old, Iris Grace Halmshaw.

Iris Grace is making a name for herself in the art world with her remarkable works featuring stunning multicoloured backgrounds with white spots and highlights. These canvases, despite being the work of a little girl who has spent fewer than 1825 days on the planet, look far more experienced in their construct than many adult contributions to modern art and are considerably more commercially viable (i.e. nice to look at).

So, where does this creative wisdom come from? Iris Grace is autistic and cannot speak. Because her condition made it hard for her to play with other children or even make eye contact with her family, she began painting as part of a range of autism-friendly therapies, including music and being with horses. And she is only the latest in a long line of artists and creative geniuses that suffer from a disability of some kind or another. Van Gogh’s health has been debated endlessly, resulting in theoretical diagnoses that include bipolar disorder and epilepsy.

And it’s not just painters. Writer and comic Bruce Clark describes comedians’ psyches as “neurotic, depressed, cynical types who find it difficult to function in the mainstream”. Statistically, those working in the arts have a high rate of depression. And a study involving more than one million people, conducted by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, reported a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental illnesses. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression and substance abuse, and were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves. Dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.

So, can we say that creativity in fact stems from disability? Is it in fact an ability that asserts itself in order to offset another disability? Though we would like to think that it is, perhaps it is not limited to the arts either. Einstein struggled with language as a child, which some attribute to a learning disability, while John Nash a Nobel Laureate in Economics (played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind) was a paranoid schizophrenic.

I will leave you to ponder these questions and draw your own conclusions, as it’s Friday and this blog post had gone on long enough. But it’s interesting isn’t it – if you turn the question on its head and assume that creativity only stems from disability – what ability would you sacrifice in order to be able to think outside the box?

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