Ludwig van Beethoven

Mental illness has consistently plagued the artistic community from the professionals to beginner-level artists. To some degree, creativity requires some sort of neuroticism – it takes a lot of thinking about what can go wrong to come up with a lot of solutions. Or, at the very least, alternatives.

The life of an artist, on top of the mental makeup that comes with the trade, is not easy. According to a study done by Bankrate, fine arts majors are less employable than high school dropouts.

Considering the amount of work it takes to even graduate from art school – long hours in the studio, the patience it takes to complete a work and the degrading attitudes of everyone who lacks the courage to pursue their actual career dreams — this is, at the very least, depressing.

Penn State has explored this relationship in the past and will likely continue to do so in the future, consistent with modern academic trends.

Last April, a documentary screening of “Life with the mask: Portraits of life with mental illness” was screened on campus to raise awareness. Students in the past have called for and acted upon the need for mental relief through creativity, as in 2016 when residents came together in State College to paint masks.

The reality is, most artists spend their days painstakingly trying to depict their world, only to be met with criticism, self-deprecation and a lack of funding.

Penn State offers counseling to all students through University Health Services. Art itself can be an important part of therapy and it is encouraged to take advantage of both of these resources if need be.

It is not to say that mental illness should be seen as something that augments artistic ability. The more happy and healthy one is in every field contributes to their success. If anything, it poses the question of if the difficulties that come with the profession cause the frequent mental illness or if the mental illness is caused by the profession.


Regardless, it is often interesting to look into the minds of the professionals whose mental states shine through their work. Genius and creativity are often placed in parallel, even Kanye West said “name one genius that ain’t crazy,” in his song “Feedback.”

Not all geniuses are ‘crazy’ – you could characterize a great many as quirky, but stable. Anyone who needs physiological help should seek it without question. Regardless, here are some of the famed insane, from all corners of the creative world.

David Foster Wallace

According to an article by The New Yorker, the famed writer, most known for his magnum opus “Infinite Jest,” suffered from depression and killed himself in 2008. He struggled with this since college and was medicated since, until the summer of his death, when he went off of the drug.

Edvard Munch

Prolific but disturbed, this painter was perhaps most known for his work “The Scream” which is famously haunting. He was influenced by Gaugin, who was also famously disturbed. His childhood was made up of life-threatening illnesses and the premature deaths of his family members, including his mother and sister. His paintings acted to alleviate the psychological burdens of himself and of the audience, according to an article by Daily Art Magazine.

Yayoi Kasama

Still alive at 88 and still living at the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo since she checked herself in in 1977, Kasama is revered as Japan’s greatest living artist. “I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art,” Kasama said, according to Psychiatric News. Much of her art derives from schizophrenic tendencies and hallucinations she experiences on a regular basis. When she publicly appears, she often sports bright red hair and polka dots.

Ludwig van Beethoven

One of the most if not the most influential composers of all time, it’s likely Beethoven suffered from bipolar disorder, according to an article by John McManamy which referenced a book, “Manic Depression and Creativity” by authors Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb. With an abusive father, love for women who were inaccessible and deafness as a musician — It is no surprise he struggled with mental torment.

These are just a handful of artists who have suffered from mental illness and there are countless articles investigating the relationship between creativity and mental illness being released in modern context.

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