Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temeprament
In Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay
Redfield Jamison explores the compelling connection between mental disorders and artistic creativity. Artists have long been considered different from the general population, and one often hears tales of authors, painters, and composers who both struggle with and are inspired by their "madness". Jamison's text explores these stereotypes in a medical context, attributing some artists' irrational behaviors to mental disorders, particularly manic-depressive illness. In order to establish this link, Jamison presents an impressive collection of artists who have suffered from mental illness, whether diagnosed correctly during their lifetime or discovered in hindsight. Well organized and interesting, Jamison provides an ideal introduction to this still
evolving idea, providing the reader with as many thought provoking questions as answers, and leaving the door open for further study.
Jamison begins with a brief explanation of manic-depressive illness and its effects on human behavior. The term "manic-depressive illness" refers to a variety of mental disorders which share similar symptoms, but range greatly in severity. These disorders alters one's mood and behaviors, disrupt established sleep and sexual patterns, and cause fluctuations in energy level. Manic-depressive illness cause cycles of manic, energized highs followed by debilitating, lethargic lows. Such disorders usually develop early in life and intensify over time, leading to maniacal highs and devastating lows. The manic energy associated with mental disorders may cause a person to require less sleep while raising energy levels increasing one's rate of thinking. These symptoms stimulate creativity and lead to an elevated level of productivity. Conversely, during the attendant lows associated with mental illness, the afflicted person experiences lethargy and hopelessness. Artists, in particular, often experience a creative block during their depressive periods, resulting in an intense frustration with their decreased productivity. In turn, this frustration may drive an artist to substance abuse, or even suicide. Depression is not the only cause of detrimental and possibly dangerous changes to one's behavior. Mania, of course, does not simply produce more creative energy. During a manic period, one tends to lose their grasp on reality, which could prompt irrational impatience, excessive spending, and impulsive sexual relations. Both manic and depressive periods alter behavior significantly and pose a
threat to the patient's life.
After outlining the effects of manic-depressive illness on human behavior, Jamison presents profiles of some of the numerous artists who have suffered from some sort of mental disturbance. Among the most notable manes are Picasso, van Gogh, Hemingway, Fitzgerald,...