I am very happy that Poole (2003) feels that my paper (Wills, 2003) makes a significant contribution to the literature on the relationship between creativity and mental disorder. Nevertheless, I would like to comment on certain points that he makes.
First, the literature on the above topic may be flawed, but it is not small, since an abundance of references extends back at least a hundred years, and it is not inconclusive, since a regular finding is that of the connection between high artistic creativity and mood disorders.
Second, although jazz biographies are written in order to sell books, they tend to be sober, respectful and well-researched, and often are written by academics. Even the most comprehensive psychiatric assessment cannot match the time and effort expended by responsible biographers.
Poole feels that I was uncritical in my acceptance that Thelonious Monk had a dementing process caused by excessive drug usage. My information was taken from the biography by Gourse (1997). She interviewed Dr Everett Dulit, a Monk afficionado who discussed Monk's case with doctors who knew him, and who felt that drug-induced dementia was the likely diagnosis. Similarly, Poole feels that John Coltrane did not necessarily exhibit pathological behaviours, yet first-person accounts in six Coltrane biographies describe these, and in his acclaimed biography Porter (1998) states, ‘There is absolute agreement that Coltrane practiced maniacally...’.
Poole's belief that ‘Even severe mental disorder is not incompatible with creativity...there is no negative association between the two’ needs clarification. It depends on the type, and the stage of development of the mental disorder. For instance, hypomania often facilitates creativity, but severe depression will extinguish it (Akiskal & Akiskal, 1988).
A better understanding of the link between creativity and mental disorder will help great artists to do what they do best - be creative.
- © 2004 Royal College of Psychiatrists