2010 10 01 The Swedish Research Council’s quarterly seminar September 30 on creativity, madness, art, science and change.
Notes by David Dickson
The point made by Örjan de Manzano, scholar of brain genetics at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, is clear. The genetic set-ups of schizophrenic and creative brains have important aspects in common. One and the same genetics of the brain can give rise to psychotic illness and to genial creativity.
On 30 September 2010 highly merited scholars in genetics, art and pedagogics lectured at the quarterly seminar of the Swedish Research Council about madness and different aspects of creativity. Ninety researchers, artists, teachers and other people were gathered to learn and to discuss. The combination of lecturers was set up to instigate dialogue between disciplines that nornally do not combine voluntarily. Eva Hoff’s thoughts about heuristic teaching and the acceptance of play and make-believe as important stimuli for children’s creativity provided a social soil for Örjan de Manzano’s biologically oriented explorations of human creativity and madness. Maria Sandgren who lectured about the voice and processes of creativity among opera singers gave perspectives on the necessity of combining play and creativity with frames of hard work and disciplined development of skills. Görel Cavalli-Björkman’s picture of highly creative artists with a history of mental illness problematised romantic notions of creative madness at the same time as her exposition tended to suggest the psychotic experience as a possible source for mature artistic expression. Finally, Gunnar Thörnqvist’s lecture about what characterizes and fosters the creative mind forcefully corroborated Eva Hoff’s ideas about openness and freedom of mind in education and upbringing, at the same time as he introduced elements such as discipline, competition and elitism in combination with tolerance and generosity as requirements for fostering creativity, energy and change.
To Gunnar Thörnqvist’s mind, spaces for creativity are essential,. How do people become creative? In what places does creativity come into being. Thörnqvist made it his point that in places where relations are characterized by great tolerance towards divergent norms and divergent thinking, individuals can develop into healthy creative people and creativity can flourish. In places or homes in which such tolerance exists in combination with safety within the family, and a mixture of chaos and perfectionism in thought, children have been known to develop their creativity to a maximum.
One of the questions that came up was what decides whether the creatively gifted individual develops creativity or mental illness. Thörnqvist’s list of conditions that favour the development of creativity in children did not in itself address that question. In the context of the seminar as a whole, however, generosity, playfulness, equality, communication, but also competency, discipline, elitism and competition came to stand out as elements supportive of mental health. Among conditions detrimental to the development of healthy creativity Thörnqvist mentions hierarchies (however effective), unresolved conflicts and closed doors.
For parents, pedagogues, educational planners, entrepreneurial coaches and private as well as publicly funded research or artistic institutions and departments, the fact that the fostering of creativity and the encouraging of places where creativity is favoured can make the difference between madness and genius is good news indeed. The upbringing of children can make a difference. Modes of teaching can make a diffference. For the individual with a schizoid genetic set-up this news could mean the difference between life and death.