Any artist worth their salt has a pinch of madness in the mix that makes them what they are. In other words, artists are not made they are born. Or at least born with different brain wiring which may predispose them to devote themselves to the life.

A 2014 study have seen results suggesting this.

“Structural brain differences in relation to expertise have been demonstrated in a number of domains including visual perception, spatial navigation, complex motor skills and musical ability.” — Lead author Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium.

““The distinction between sanity and insanity is narrower than a razor’s edge, sharper than a hound’s tooth, more agile than a mule deer. It is more elusive than the merest phantom. Perhaps it does not even exist; perhaps it is a phantom. ” – Philip K. Dick, VALIS

Studies—most notably from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute—have begun to suggest a biological mechanism: highly creative healthy people and people with schizophrenia have certain brain chemistry features in common.

Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute have conducted brain scans on creative people. These studies indicate similarities in the brain chemistry and structure of highly creative people and those suffering from schizophrenia and autism.

One possibility, some researchers suggest, is that both groups lack important receptors—Dopamine—in the brain, used to direct and filter thoughts. The Swedish research team used PET scanning to determine the abundance of a particular dopamine receptor, or sensor—in the creative individuals’ thalamus and striatum—areas that process and sort information before it reaches conscious thought. Individuals who had lower levels of dopamine receptor activity in the thalamus also had higher scores on tests of divergent thinking-for instance, finding many solutions to a problem

Unrestricted processing of thoughts—which also contributes to insomnia, migraines and anxiety attacks—may allow highly creative people to “Think outside the box”; however “Thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box,” writes lead author Fredrik Ullén, a cognitive scientist at Karolinska.


Emilie Glazer, experimental psychologist and author of one of the Oxford journal papers suggests: “It may be the milder forms of psychosis that are at the root of the association between creativity and madness The underlying traits linked with mild psychopathology enhance creative ability. In severe form, they are debilitating.”

Research is also showing that traits associated with different mental illnesses have different effects on creativity. The creativity needed to develop the theory of relativity, is, for example, very different from that required for producing surreal paintings, or poetry.

Agony and Ecstasy

Psychologists sent a questionnaire to a range of artists; analyzing the responses, the psychologists found that artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on “unusual cognition”, a trait which gives rise to a greater tendency to feel in between reality and a dream state, or to feel overwhelmed by one’s own thoughts.

But the artists and schizophrenics scored very differently on another measure called introversive anaerobia, which is characterized by social withdrawal and emotional emptiness. Unlike schizophrenics, artists scored at normal levels.

The second part of the survey found indications that—compared with the general population—artists tend to have had twice as many partners since the age of consent, and the number of partners increased with the seriousness with which they pursued their art.


A word from this artist

I leave the whys, to science. All this artist can say for sure, is that I and my fellow painters, sculptors and musicians are touched by a bit of madness. “The more creative the mind, the more “eclectic” the artist.” – Dame Judith Agetha

My friend and fellow artist Master Nick compare notes all the time and laugh and agonize over our racing brains, depression, migraines, anxiety, mood swings and a host of other things that vary from artist to artist. But we—Master Nick and myself—are agreed that the act of creating art it is vital to maintaining our sanity!

Take that for what you will.

– from the easel of
Julian Greigh

Note: This article has been updated from my original 2011 post from my old blog site.