For generations, extreme creativity has been associated with a dysfunctional neurological state of the mind. This belief was not merely concocted to differentiate the so-called art geniuses from the laymen. Studies done by various groups and institutions strongly agree that the mental state of an artist greatly affects his work. For most subjects of the study, it was during the artist’s state of depression or extreme anxiety that his greatest or one of his greatest works was done. To further emphasize the correlation of art and mental illness, it is best to look into the artists and their works.
1. Truman Capote (Truman Streckfus Persons)
Truman Capote became famous for his novels Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. He has written many other works, but he was most remembered for these two books. His writing style gave way to a new genre that is now called nonfiction novels. Truman was never the type to hide his sexual preference, but he never openly supported any gay rights group during his time. At the peak of his career, this great writer turned inward into himself. He became a recluse and resorted to alcoholism and drug use. He died of liver disease in August 25, 1984.
2. Graham Greene
Graham Greene, even as a child, suffered from mental and emotional instability. It was this condition of his that his parents were forced to send him to London for psychotherapy sessions. During these sessions, Graham Greene found his passion for literature and started writing poetry. He is greatly remembered for his book, Orient Express. In his career, he has written many other works whose main plots are of betrayal, pursuit, and death. Though he never won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, Graham Greene has been conferred with many other awards including the Companion of Honor Award given by Queen Elizabeth II and the Order of Merit.
3. T.S. Eliot (Thomas Stearns Eliot)
T.S. Eliot is said to be the ‘most important English-language poet of the 20th century.’ (Wikipedia, 2012). His poem The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in 1915 paving the way for him to be recognized. T.S. Eliot’s first marriage ended in divorce, and it was greatly believed that he was mostly depressed during the entirety of the said marriage. He, in fact, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1921. The main inspiration for the woman in his poem The Waste Land was believed to be his first wife. T.S. Eliot married for the second time and this union was a success.
4. Lev Tolstoy (Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy)
Lev Tolstoy, well known for his works War and Peace and Anna Karenina was a Russian-born writer. The Tolstoys were a member of the Old Russian nobility. Tolstoy never knew his mother as she died early. The death, however, of his father Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy and that of his grandmother two years after made a profound impact on the young Leo Tolstoy’s life. He and his siblings were cared for by their relatives. He never finished college and went on to join his brother in the military service, and it was at that time that he turned to writing. He had a number of his writings published prior to his famous novels. War and Peace and Anna Karenina were written when he was already married to his wife Sophia. The marriage, though, seemed well at first having produced 13 children which later became a source of dispute between Leo Tolstoy and his wife. Their marriage became a spectacle owing mostly to the newfound beliefs of Tolstoy that his wife strongly disapproved of. Leo Tolstoy died in a train station in the middle of winter at the age of 82.
5. F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American writer who has always been said to be gifted with a strong interest in literature. His mother made sure that he got the best of an upper-class upbringing. Through the years, Fitzgerald wrote short stories and was able to attend Princeton University. His extra-curricular writings came in the way of his studies, and he eventually dropped out of school. He then joined the military and met his wife Zelda. Although the engagement was broken off once by Zelda due to the financial instability of Fitzgerald, the publication of his first book in 1920 This Side of Paradise led to the re-engagement of Fitzgerald and Zelda and they later married and had one child. Zelda suffered from schizophrenia and was eventually interred into an institution. Fitzgerald’s highly acclaimed novel The Great Gatsby has been adapted to film and was an inspiration to a number of films of the same title. An alcoholic since his college days, F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940.
6. Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was a celebrated American novelist and journalist whose writing style greatly influenced the literature of the 20th century. The way he lived his life both privately and publicly later became an inspiration to writers. He has had four wives; the fourth, Mary Welsh, was the one who was with him till the last day of his life. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926. He also wrote a novel significantly based on his wartime experience entitled A Farewell To Arms. Upon his return from the Spanish Civil War as a foreign journalist, he wrote the celebrated novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. In 1952, his last novel The Old Man and the Sea was published. Hemingway, like his father, was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a hereditary metabolic disorder that causes an iron overload in the body and can lead to mental and physical deterioration. Hemingway died on July 2, 1961. He committed suicide.
7. Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf was an English modernist writer who was greatly known for her works Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Orlando, and A Room of One’s Own. Literature was no stranger to Virginia, though she has been homeschooled by her parents. At a young age, she has been exposed to Victorian literature which was complimented greatly by her father’s vast collection of books. In 1895 when Virginia was only 13 years old, she lost her mother, and 2 years later her stepsister Stella also died. These tragedies in her life caused her the first of many nervous breakdowns. In 1904, Virginia’s father died, and it led to another more serious nervous breakdown that she had to be institutionalized. Throughout her life, Virginia battled with mood swings that would for some time and leave her overly depressed where she couldn’t do anything. And as if to make it easy for all concerned, especially to her husband, Virginia Woolf committed suicide on March 28, 1941.
8. Cole Porter
Cole Porter, a renowned Broadway composer and songwriter in the 1930’s, was always musically inclined since his childhood. His wealthy grandfather originally wanted him to become a lawyer, but even the Dean of the Harvard Law School advised him to transfer instead to the Harvard music faculty as his potential for success lies in music rather than in the study of law. Porter’s first song to be used on Broadway was ‘Esmeralda,’ and it garnered great reviews from the critics. This success, however, was followed by failure as his first Broadway production See America First did not do very well and closed in just two weeks. His career was marred by both successes and failures. And though he is well remembered for many of his songs, it was his successful musical ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ that earned him a Tony Award. In 1937, Porter was in an accident that left him disabled and kept him in pain until his last days. He had been reported as having had clinical depression, paranoid delusions, and OCD. He lived his last six remaining years in seclusion following the amputation of his right leg, and he never again worked or wrote another song or musical.
9. Charles Schultz
Charles Schultz was the creator of the well-loved comic strip Peanuts. His career began with Li’l Folks, a regular cartoon strip that was published for three years by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It was in this cartoon that he first used the character of Charlie Brown, and he also drew a dog that looked like Snoopy. In 1948, he did an unprecedented move; he had Li’l Folks syndicated through the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and in 1950, St. Paul Pioneer Press stopped publishing the said cartoon. Schultz did not stop there. He then proceeded to the United Feature Syndicate and showed them his best strips from Li’l Folks, and the most-loved cartoon strip Peanuts was born.
10. Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams, an American playwright, in the span of his career received almost all possible awards for theater. His dramas received not only the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards but also the Tony Award, Pulitzer Award for Drama, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tennessee Williams belonged to a dysfunctional family, and he had remained close to his sister Rose who was only 16 months older than he was. Rose was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was later institutionalized. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother showed a neurotic and hysterical behavior. The illness of his sister Rose greatly affected Tennessee Williams as it further made him dependent on amphetamines, barbiturates, and alcohol. Though he tried to hide his sexual preference, but by the late 1930’s, he went out in the open and joined a gay social circle in New York. Failed relationships always made Tennessee Williams depressed, but the most serious was when his former lover, Frank Phillip Merlo, died. His death caused Tennessee Williams to fall deeper into depression that he increased his drug use and was often hospitalized. For a time was committed in mental health facilities. He died on
February 25, 1983 in his suite at the Elysee Hotel in New York. He was 71.