depression + creativity

There is a distinct relationship between depression and creativity. Much of the history of the arts is littered with depressed people who use the extremes of their emotional range as a force behind their creative output.

But why is it that most creative individuals are chronically depressed? Is there some chemical link between the structure of creative thought and the state we regard as depression? Or is it that the psychological architectures of the human mind simple contemplate reality at a deeper level when induced by depression.

What this leads to is a question of the role that depression plays in the evolution of both the individual mind and the collective evolution of culture. If we are capable of erasing depression, if man attains a state where no real negative emotional impact is experienced, then how will we continue to grow as a species/culture? If we “cure” depression then who will write the next Wasteland, direct the next Citizen Kane, paint the next Starry Night.

We may be forced to listen to elevator music, starring blankly at pointless abstract watercolors, wondering nothing and simply being content with life. I hope to be dead before then.

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Life has very unexpected ways of fucking with you. This past week a friend of mine, Bill Pisarri, was found dead in the subway. Early reports indicate it was non violent, probably a heart attack. He was 35.

I have been wandering around the past few days thinking about the abruptness of death. What happens to us is instantaneous and profound. We are no longer in the now. From the point of death onward we exist only in the memories of others.

Somehow we continue, through our actions in our lifetime to exist. Our works like parts of us that continue onward, they carry with them the proof of our existence, of our path through this life before the next.

Bill existed in many worlds, mingling with a very wide cross section of people. From his friends in various cities accumulated through a lifetime of creativity. Music, film, painting, much work was left scattered among his friends. Some works seen by many, other things by very few.

The record we leave as humans of our presence leaves behind a complex set of ideas about who people will think we were in our lives. Though often vary inaccurate, this shape we leave behind us still tells us that someone did something to shape the evolution of who we are as a species. From a kind gesture, to a masterpiece of art each of us has the ability to control the entire evolution of mankind in our lives.

Some, like Bill, will leave a bigger footprint on the human conscious than others. But we all are affecting it in some way, right now.


How do we learn what beauty is? From where does mankind’s sense of aesthetics come? How is it that we perceive certain elements of design, form, shape and color as pleasing more than others?

As I stare out across the river, the sun setting over the city around me, I can not help but think that the why of these phenomena comes from some basic need: some form of necessary desire planned into our survival.

Yet the image of the sun crossing the threshold of dusk into tomorrow seems almost universal, like the lines of a woman’s form (society and trend may dictate what is popular but the female body has always been in fashion) we will always be struck down in it’s presence.

Beyond the obvious need for reproduction why do certain elements strike us as profound, filling us with a universal sense of awe? What desires and fear may transcend the mind through these particular icons within the collective mind? It is these constants within every culture that we should worship, for like gods they hold sway over our souls.

self editing

In the course of each day we navigate the infrastructure of our lives, deftly wandering among the people we see: the strangers and acquaintances that we interact with a blur of faces, voices and places.

To each of these people we give a face that is the idea we have of who we are. We project a facade of individuality that tells others what we stand for and how be believe. But this mask we wear is almost certainly a lie. We lie because at each point where when we might speak out of turn or say something out of character we hold back. Those words that form on your tongue that you so subtly repress, that you think better of at the moment before they come out, are the real you.

Through a complex set of self-editing techniques we are almost never aware of we keep in the things we feel, we cage our emotions in order that we may more easily move through our lives. This reduction of friction in our social interactions makes tomorrow easier, lets other predict the pattern of our movements through supposed knowledge of who we are, what we will do and say, of how we think.

If we were to be less cautious would life be so much worse? Can we not tell others what we think or have we as a society become our own “thought police”?

the content and the container

So I guess it is time for me to recount the passing of the performance I did at Art Chicago. The basic outline of the piece is that two “agents” walk into the place, video camera in hand, and scope out the action in an aggressive manner – obviously looking for something or someone in particular.

I had gone into this piece in the hopes of creating a disturbance, giving an artist or gallery owner reason to speak out about the intrusion of authority without right in their spaces. But what I got instead left me morose and with sadness I still can not shake.

As we strode through the spaces, my companion agent and I (followed closely by a photographer), we specifically filmed people, recording both the viewers interest in a piece and documenting the piece in a way that was intended to make the gallery owners and artists feel threatened. What we got for our intrusion were sidelong glances and guilty looks – the timid stares of those who would rather you didn’t do what you were doing, but who were too lazy or afraid to stop us.

We were questioned by people about who we were (one women actually asked if we were the CIA, to which I replied no). But not a single artist stopped us – though many starred at me, when I turned to face them they quickly looked away.

What I saw there that day made me realize something about the idea of art. I finally see that there are two distinct groups of people making two distinct kinds of work and both calling it “art”. These groups interchange ideas, but one is constantly evolving and making something never made before and the other is continually exploring the range of each idea being expounded by the first. The second group merely recreates the first group’s works over and over – subtlety changing the variables of the content but never adding to the original idea.

Why are there so few words to describe the most important facet of human evolution (creativity)? How is it that in the English language (the one to which my thoughts are currently confined) there is so wide a range of ideal placed in that one word? When will society begin to see the difference between the content and the container?

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