The Cost Of Art: The Line Between Creative Genius And Madness

If mental illness was the source of much of your creativity – as a painter, writer or comedian – would you want to overcome your illness even at the cost of your career?



Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, famous for being one of the main artists of the expressionist movement, struggled with mental illness for most of his life, suffering from anxiety and hallucinations.


Mental illness ran in Munch’s family. His grandfather suffered from depression and his aunt and sister were diagnosed with schizophrenia.


Munch’s life was marked by tragedy and loss. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was five, followed soon by his sister. Another sister was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, forcing her to live in a psychiatric institution for her life. His father suffered manic-depressive disorders and his brother died a few months after getting married.


In the autumn of 1908 his anxiety, compounded by heavy drinking, became acute, and he experienced hallucinations and feelings of persecution.


He entered a clinic for treatment in Denmark and after eight months emerged in better health. He saw his mental illness as an important motivation for his art.


“I cannot get rid of my illnesses, for there is a lot in my art that exists only because of them,” said Munch.


Munch wrote that “sickness, madness, and death were the black angels that guarded my crib.” The strokes and colors that Munch uses in his compositions often demonstrate his own state of mind.


Munch died of natural causes in his house near Oslo on January 23 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday.


His artistic temperament and talent brought him success and eventually peace, and greatly benefitted the world of art.

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