Publication Date

April 2018


Steven Stemler




English (United States)


What is the relationship between mental disorders and creativity? This thesis addresses this age-old question using a case study approach. Three artists, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, will be discussed in these case studies, as they are all exceptionally well known for their artistic and creative talent as well as their experiences with pathological behaviors and symptoms. With these case studies, the neurological, environmental, affective, behavioral, cognitive and motivational features of mental disorders will be analyzed in order to obtain a holistic understanding of how mental illness can spur creativity, and for a select few, function as the origin of creative genius. While it can be difficult to draw generalizable conclusions about the relationship between creativity and mental disorders from such a small sample, this thesis will illustrate the extent to which mental disorders can play instrumental roles in the creative processes of artists. An important common element of this relationship, as observed for all three artists, is that mental disorders can inspire and compel artists to pursue greater levels of self-expression as well as artistic skill. One of the primary objectives of this thesis is to obtain an understanding of the positive aspects of mental disorders. Hopefully, by focusing on these positive elements, the negative societal branding of mental disorders will be called into question, and an acceptance, appreciation, and celebration of those afflicted, and the sources of their creativity, will be promoted.



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