Parkinson’s, the Starry Night and Creativity

images (2)Science Looks to Find the Connection Between Parkinson’s and Creativity

If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.             -Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh suffered from manic depression and epilepsy, Edvard Munch with hallucinations and anxiety, and as a new study has revealed, Beethoven also suffered from manic depression. One cannot think of the genius of these three without thinking them eccentric to say the very least. Would they have displayed such genius if manic depression and anxiety were not an issue; if the seeds of great ability manifested in spite of illness? Would we then not think of them as exceptional in their field? Or did manic depression and anxiety give rise to their extraordinary talent? Maybe it was a little of both. Ask yourself the same question, would you become more creative after such a diagnoses?

The Question                                                                                                                         Is there a correlation between Parkinson’s disease and increased creativity? And if so, how much and what are the reasons?                                                                                     

The Study                                                                                                             Researchers asked 27 people with Parkinson’s disease and another 27 who didn’t have PD to answer questions in regards to creativity. Everyone chosen was close in age and education levels. The aim was to document the answers in as far as the imagination is concerned for each group after a series of abstract pictures and questions were given. It was found that the Parkinson’s side used more symbolic meanings in their answers than the other side of non-Parkinson’s volunteers who were more literal in their interpretations. And on top of that, the Parkinson’s side who took higher doses of levodopa, the main Parkinson’s medication, scored even higher in symbolic imagination.

In addition, there’s an underlying process at work here that gives cause and effect to our question; with one sense disrupted the others increase in strength. You lose your sight; your hearing becomes more pronounced. It’s the same way with the brain, with one part impaired, the other parts become stronger.                             

Interpretation images (8)

I ask myself the question, have I become more creative? Well, I believe I have but for many reasons and one is because of PD which has caused me to become more mindful, more in touch with my physical self and thus consciously more aware of my limitations and liberations. Thus, I’ve discovered that I love to write and this secret came to me not in a dream but in paying attention to myself, begging the question, “what brings me joy and happiness.” For Oz didn’t give me anything, it was already there, I just needed to get out of my own way. If illness causes one to slow down their busy lives and question themselves than it stands to reason that the extra time will bring about a sea change as one gets in touch with the inner light and brings to the surface the creative instincts from these fluid waters.

Now I take levodopa for PD and as the study indicates higher doses of this medication points to an increase in creativity. Is it the sole reason or is it in addition to the natural process of one part of the brain increasing as another is in decline; so levodopa would enhance what is already enhanced to an even greater degree according to the reasoning of the study.

I may still have PD but with the drug I am able to improve cognition and increase physical aptness, all the while remembering my infirmities as mindfulness is ever-present. And in my way of thinking, what we call getting lost in one’s art is simply a deep-seated mindfulness; a total ‘at-one-ment’ with the present moment. And that to me is the first spark of creativity as all these developments in our lives come together and allow us this new gift where everything else takes a back seat. This is one method of coping, of living with Parkinson’s.

I see that I have painted a rosy picture when in fact it’s never that easy as it takes patience and time to come to grips with a change in our lives. And there is a price to pay for disregarded signs of difficulties. What happens when the medications are not as effective or we’re constantly shuffling between off and on periods as happens with levodopa; especially after it has been our mainstay for several years? We can see the demise in many as a disregard for proper treatment goes too far for the sake of creativity. One has to just think of Van Gogh as manic depression gives way to incredible highs and despairing lows. It can give but also takes away as mindfulness and meaning give way to emptiness and apathy.

images (4)After Thoughts                                   A friend of mine was insulted by this study, he is an artist and has Parkinson’s, and refuses to believe that Parkinson’s gives to increased creativity. In his line of thinking to give any credit to a condition such as Parkinson’s was to cheapen creativity. He also felt that by bringing up the names of Van Gogh and Munch, the researcher brought into the experiment too much of a comparison between what constitutes great art and what does not.

But as I told him, the keyword is creativity; we look at Van Gogh’s, as well as Munch and Beethoven. You might be a great artist but not necessarily be very creative.  What you did before your diagnosis is a moot point. The first step is your mental reaction to this life altering prognosis. Then the real gist of the study is plain and simple, does a disease like PD push one to become more creative… period. And the form it takes is anything from gardening, painting, writing, crafts to philosophy and astronomy; anything that sparks the creative mind.

The study does not suggest that upon diagnosis I will start to paint like Van Gogh. I believe it opens a door to a world where as before we may not have taken time to notice. And we become more creative for many reasons but most importantly because something is lost to us and needs to manifest its way out in another form of our invention.

Please feel free to like, follow or comment, if you or someone you know has any connection with Parkinson’s disease.

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Published by

JC

I was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease on October 29, 2012. These are my thoughts on Parkinson's and a variety of subjects.

35 thoughts on “Parkinson’s, the Starry Night and Creativity”

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, the 9 lives of levodopa. It continuously reinvents itself. I thought when I started this blog, it was best, to be honest, which has allowed me to see a silver lining, something I can give back.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for such a fine compliment. At times’ my painting of words is a mess as I fuss over every letter and literally have to make myself press publish. Yes, Van Gogh fascinates me also, to be so gifted and misunderstood and it was his brother’s wife who is responsible for the artist we know today. His biography is fascinating. Thank you again…

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Being blind I smiled at your mention of how hearing improves with loss of sight. I certainly rely on my hearing more than a fully sighted person, (I have some residual, mobility vision but not enough to read print and rely on my guide dog, Trigger to get around independently). I guess my hearing is more acute than many non-visually impaired people and (possibly through being blind) I have always had a vivid imagination.
    There are a number of interesting ethical questions. If we can, at some future point via genetic engineering or drugs prevent many disabilities or diseases but, by so doing we kill the creativity which sometimes flows from them, should we plough ahead regardless? Is the ultimate good the greatest happiness of the greatest number? If so we should, it can be argued jettison any concerns about the loss of creativity for any loss is outweighed by the increase in overall human happiness but, then again how does one define such a slippery concept as happiness.
    Conversly if drugs used to treat Parkinsons and other diseases enhance creativity should society consider allowing people who don’t have these conditions to use such drugs in order to enhance their creative capacities? A libertarian would, no doubt answer yes.
    Thanks for this fascinating post. Kevin

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, how does one define happiness? We take enough drugs, alcohol and pills to create a false sense of it already. And someone like Van Gogh was happy, when he was painting. He had deep depression to compare his happiness against, so he should have an expert on it. When I was writing this I kept seeing Robin Williams in my head. The depression, the brilliance and then the end. As you said, what is for the greater good and what is not. Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As drewdog2060drewdog2060 said, FASCINATING. I think you might be right about the “mindfulness” being at least part of the answer. I’ve had similar experiences when taking a small child someplace I’ve been many times before…suddenly, as they point out the colors or the patterns or things that interest them, I see things in a new way. When I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2005, I decided to live for a year as if each day was my last, trying to focus on truly seeing and feeling everything. It was definitely an amazing experience, both draining and filling me.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story and your creativity! 🙂
    Also, thanks for the brief history lesson–I knew about a few other artist’s struggles with mental illness (or, mental difference-from-everyone-else-therefore-viewed-as-illness) but not the ones you mentioned. Sometimes I wonder…if the people with “MI” are the ones who brought the world the most beauty, can we really call it illness? (Not meaning to downplay the tough parts of dealing with MI…just wondering if maybe we should embrace it –or people who deal with it– in different ways.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe that is it, we should embrace MI in a different way and that’s where I think mindfulness comes in. The work that Jon Kabatt-Zinn is doing on this subject is phenomenal. Listen to his talk he gave at Google (I have the link on my homepage) Mindfulness to me is more about acceptance of your situation and turning it around. As the Buddha said, “be careful of what you destroy in a person for you just might destroy the best thing.” I think it’s very much about turning MI around, learning to cope and directing that energy into creativity.

      I like what you said about your experience with Lupus… draining and filling, that sounds so powerful to me, like working real hard and finally sitting down and feeling so full and complete. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll have to do that! I’ve been thinking a lot about it because the our guy has ADHD, which (I think) is not exactly termed mental illness, but it’s definitely seen as a handicap. However, he is one of the brightest kids I know. I keep telling him–if we could ONLY harness all that energy and get him focused, he’d be unstoppable. Come to think of it, maybe I don’t want him to be unstoppable…haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So interesting…and your thoughts on the mind needing a new outlet and neurological diagnosis opening the door to increased creativity and mindfulness ring true in my case. Great post. Thanks. I did not know about this study. It would be interesting to include other neurological conditions. Have you seen the book – The Brains way of Healing, by neurologist Norman Doidge. I think you may find it interesting.

    Like

    1. Yea, I had just found about it from a friend who pointed it out to me. I was amazed, but it makes sense and other people I know said the same thing as you, that they felt more creative and were able to lose themselves in their creativness and forget about their condition. Maybe they may have done test on other conditions, I’m not sure? I’m going to look up that book; I find this all very fascinating.

      Thanks for the comments and all the ‘likes’. I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a captivating post.. You do have a magic wand over your words to keep it flowing smoothly, irrespective of the topic you choose to write..

    My humble opinion on creativity is, just as you mentioned about the increase in hearing quality with the lose of sight..

    When a person undergoes any distress, of all the impairment, the first to get wounded is the self confidence and with that creeps in self doubt..

    To fight back that impairment, people tend to get into their passion and fine tune the skill.. As it goes with every passionate endeavor, the work stands out beyond the ordinary, captivating the audience..

    Thus, you get yourself boosted up with self confidence, every time you get that sense of accomplishment..

    It might also be seen as, deeper the distress and struggle to come out of it, better is the outcome of their passionate work..

    I had this view, since I’ve seen few people, who are not diagnosed with any medical complication, but had gone through some personal loss, get into a creative world, to bounce back to happier living..

    I do believe that the key to running anyone’s life is their self confidence and we all are in constant search of ways to keep it geared up and running, with passion as its fuel..

    Like

    1. Thank you for your kind words, I do appreciate it! Yes in the end it is self-confidence and the many ways it can be pulled down or raised up.
      I’m sure we will chat more about this as we are only skimming the surface… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. No science behind my opinion (that I am aware of), but I don’t believe that the supposed “connection” is as clear as it might seem. Correlation does not prove causation. I believe that the creativity was there all along, frequently untapped.

    Once other options become fewer as a result of a significant diagnosis, the focus on creativity shows up as a way to deal with prospective losses – so it SEEMS to suddenly appear rather than “released.”
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Like

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