But just because we’re not smiling, doesn’t mean we’re not loving the pain, the challenge, the adversity.
A correlation between sadness and creativity might exist, but maybe the causal relation is the other way around. As opposed to thinking that sadness causes higher creativity, maybe engaging in any form of creative activity causes sadness.
How can painting, writing, drawing, or making music cause sadness? Because most are solitary activities, because they don’t always lead to instant applause, because it takes years and years before you break through.
Who wouldn’t feel a little depressed at that grim reality?
So artists are faced with two options:
1. Either they learn to love the painful process of doing their work, or
2. They quit because it’s too rough.
That being said, the artists that ‘make it’ inevitably find a way to endure the sad reality of being an artist. They accept that life isn’t always fair, and if they want to pursue their dream, they have to sacrifice short-term happiness. As a result, they don’t get discouraged when their work gets rejected. They view criticism as feedback that improves their work, as opposed to taking it personally.
For the Creator Who Isn’t Creating, something deep down tells her she should be exercising her creative energy.
It’s not a happy sight. Men with creative energy, who aren’t being creative, release it by scrapping with clenched fists. I’m not sure what women do—maybe they scrap verbally.
Writers who aren’t writing compensate by acting like the character that they just want to write about.
Artists who aren’t making art compensate by dramatizing their real lives. They argue, fight, and scream. They’re irritable most of the time—without knowing why. They feel restless, even guilty.
Guilty, that is, for not creating.
Instead of employing their creative energy in useful ways, the Creator Who Isn’t Creating internalizes it and even projects it onto others. She suppresses her imagination—that’s where guilt kicks in. No matter how busy and productive she may be, if she isn’t doing the work she knows she should be doing, she feels guilty.
An excellent example of what happens when a Creator Isn’t Creating is the story of author Joanna Penn. I read an interesting article on Ollin Morale’s blog where he interviews Penn. She explained why she quit a high-earning job as an IT Consultant to write full-time. I would bet that, for Joanna, that comfy IT position wasn’t fulfilling her. No matter how comfortable she was financially, there was something else tugging at her sleeve for attention: her creative calling.
John Lennon of the Beatles dealt with his fair share of depression.
It seems that people have always suspected a link between sadness and creativity. We would observe the personalities of great artists and find that a lot of them were melancholic, so we would conclude that depression must, somehow, spark creativity.
Aside from our observations, history supports this myth as well. The biographies of Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, and Virginia Woolf all tell a romantic tale of an artist struggling with depression.
Still to this day, the assumption that sadness and creativity are linked is largely a stereotype shoved on artists—we like to pigeonhole creative people as having emotional, melancholic characters.
But is there actually a way to prove that such a connection is real?
Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School conducted a study that confirmed this idea that being sad aids creativity in her paper “The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity”.
The study went like this: