Thesis Blog #1

main idea: the biological basis for creativity and its relationship to mental illness/disorders, the cult of the (mad) genius, the solitary and slightly insane artist and its historical value as well as how we value creativity. 

Why "mental disorders"?

A bit more than a week ago I was in New York presenting my thesis idea to my cohort for feedback. As usual with my work, I was all over the place. When I start to research, I pull from tons of sources as I construct the web of different ideas and influences that will inform my argument. Often, I end up with absolute chaos - but as it turns out, I work quite well in chaos.

Currently, I am narrowing down what the core of my thesis will be. When I submitted my thesis proposal, I thought I was leaning towards working collaboratively with artists who have mental illnesses to create work. Since then, I have shifted more into working in the studio with the dancers with the idea of Kinesthetic Empathy. This has recently begun to present problems with my initial proposal and how non-specific I was with even the phrase "mental illness".

After reading some of Thomas Szasz's writings on mental illness, I started to question what I considered mental illness and why. I had originally chosen to focus on anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder but even those are too broad and unrelated. I think a better choice would be to shift into non-specific disorders and focus more on the manic/depressive cycles that include all three of those disorders. 

What constitutes a "mental disorder":

• A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning

• The condition leads to significant distress and/or disability in social, occupational, or other important activities of daily life

• The condition is not an expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or personal loss

• Socially deviant behavior (such as political, religious, or sexual) by itself is not a mental disorder; it can, however, be the symptom of a mental disorder, if it can be shown that the deviant behavior is a part of a clinical syndrome reflective of an underlying dysfunction of mental functioning

• The diagnosis of a mental disorder should have clinical utility; that is, it should assist psychiatrists in developing treatment plans and help them in the determination of expected treatment outcomes and prognoses (however, DSM-5 clarifies that the diagnosis of a mental disorder does not by itself indicate a need for treatment)

Current issues of mental illness/mental health in dance?

Artists for further study

  • Martha Graham (was she crazy?)
  • Nijinsky (definitely crazy)

Do bursts of creativity and artistic breakthroughs only occur in conjunction with dark moments?

In both the show Flesh and Bone and the movie Black Swan (two of the only popular culture references that include portrayals of professional dance and mental illness), the above is the case. The characters suffering from mental illnesses are able to perform their best and most "perfect" when they are most acutely suffering. Why does this "make sense"? There have been so many incredibly influential people in the arts who have suffered from severe mental illnesses - some to the point of suicide. Why is this the case? 


This is a lot to work through for today. Hopefully my next post will have a narrowed-down core thesis and my main argument. There is too much to read until then!