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A central aim of any artistic expression is to convey to an audience the artist’s feeling about a given subject that is both honest and beautiful. William Styron, a writer of literary renown, was both extremely creative and afflicted with depression.
Yet even in his memoir on the subject, Darkness Visible, he struggled to properly define what it felt like. “Depression is a disorder of mood,” he wrote, “so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self—to the mediating intellect—as to verge close to being beyond description.”
A master of words and the pain of depression still eluded him. It’s enough to make one ask to why even bother trying to fight depression with creativity.
In December of 2103, I sat down to interview Cpl. Eric Gonzalez, a Marine who had recently graduated from his local veteran treatment court. He had been self-medicating for depression and post-traumatic stress after his two deployments. He found himself arrested and before a judge who demanded he seek treatment or do time. Able to follow orders, he went through programs, but nothing really reached him.
On a whim, he took a painting class through the VA. In that class he painted a flower and prepared to turn it in. “Are you sure you’re finished?” the facilitator asked. Eric looked at the painting and then realized that he wasn’t. He added thick lines of dark, vibrant colors in a circle around the flower. The resulting image was one of chaos, with a single point of peace in the center.
Eric credits this painting to changing his outlook. He continues to fight depression with creativity, working as a sound engineer. Thanks to his art and meditation, he walks through life with a sense of hope rather than one of dread.
Numerous studies over the years have endeavored to find a link between creativity and depression. Some refer to it as “the artist’s temperament,” as if only those who suffer can create great art. This is not true. Anyone can be creative. Creating art can give those suffering under the weight of their feelings an outlet for expression previously unmatched in their lives.
Sources: Huffington Post, Darkness Visible by William Styron, Veteran Journal
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