The Starry, Starry Night, Van Gogh & Parkinsons.

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 diagnosis?

This is 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 imaginations 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.

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.” 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 increases 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-meant’ 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 of 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.

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 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 whereas 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.


*Image courtesy of Pixabay

*First posted on 5/2015

Author: JC

I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in October of 2012. These are my writings of life and love after the fall but during a time of deep creativity either because or in spite of my illness... Peace and Love... JC

20 thoughts on “The Starry, Starry Night, Van Gogh & Parkinsons.”

  1. “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.”

    ^ I totally agree. Great post! In high school, my senior project was about the link between creativity & depression. I learned a lot. Again, this was a great read.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I definitely know in my personal life, that chronic illness slowing me down gave my creativity a boost. But I feel it’s mostly because the illness eliminated parts of my life I could no longer handle, so I have more time to focus on creative pursuits. I do have epilepsy as well as a kidney disease, & I know there are studies on “the epileptic brain” being more creative (as you posted about), but I’m not sure if I can say I’m creative because of it or not. It’s all very fascinating to me, either way.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You do make a valid point, some of what we’re interested in is allowed to surface when a change in circumstance comes our way. Sort of like one door closes and another opens. Thanks, jc

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I think you have expressed some valid and very interesting observations. After the death of my son, I began writing and yet, I never knew I could or never knew I would love it so much, and after publishing a book, it then lead me to discover art therapy and creating workshops for people who suffer with grief. Creativity is an stepping stone into our infinite potential and why it takes a disease, grief or a mental health issue to reveal it, I am not sure, but I’m glad I discovered it. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Thank you very much for your comment. It seems you’ve been on a long arduous journey when it comes to grief, disease, and mental health. I am thankful you are able to talk about it. So many keep it locked up and that is never a good thing. Thanks for sharing… jc

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written Jeff but maybe we stretch to far by comparing with the lives and sometimes loneliness of som great artists.

    It is however proven that a sudden damage to the brain can release a latent creativity. It could be writing, music or painting.
    I have another friend Blogger in England that also has PD and started writing a while after onset. Personally I had a big hit to my head and within a week started spouting poems.
    A doctor confirmed such occurrences are documented.

    It could be that during a too busy life we don’t give enough time to our inner selves and therefore the awakening comes with the damage. I did even write a poem on this.:)

    The song now is one I love. As I love the art by Vincent Van Gogh. Have been to his museum and others having his work on show. Tears streaming.
    ~ miriam

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This is interesting. A lot of times when we lose one sense or faculty, we gain another, and I can see how taking a specific medication might influence one part of the brain more than another, leading to more creativity. However you got here, I’m glad because you have a great blog as a result ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment. Yes, how did I get here, sort of like your life being a novel that traces you, a history of you. Have a good day!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post and interesting topic, JC.

    “Would they have displayed such genius if manic depression and anxiety were not an issue..”

    I would say, probably not. Their art must have been a sanctuary and a form of therapy – an alternative paradigm where they spent a lot of time and which allowed their true brilliance to be realized. Everything can have purpose – even manic depression and anxiety, or Aspergers or Parkinsons – as harsh as that may sound or be – and of course one would only say so at the risk of sounding extremely insensitive (especially if one is not familiar with a particular ailment and its effects), yet I believe it should be factored in.

    Because it is not the ailment or disease itself – or the hard times (for example difficult childhood) or difficult life circumstances that create the artist’s art – it is the artist him or herself – but such challenges and difficulties in life could be major catalysts for the release of brilliance within (creativity that already has huge potential, but that lies dormant) – to the extent that the brilliance may not have been fully released otherwise – or at all. (Although, I do think introversion can also play a part. I’m not sure about Beethoven and Munch, but Van Gogh was an introvert).

    Have you seen the recent animated film of Van Gogh? I thought it was rather good – got a good feeling of his character through the film.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I listened to a podcast recently that talked about an unusual form of dementia. One of the symptoms in its early stages are a driving need to create. The theory is that as the patient’s frontal lobe is dimished, other areas of the brain become more active. Fascinating study, but of course you’d never choose dementia or illness for the sake of creativity.
    Wonderful post and discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The words you’ve chosen to delve into a fascinating subject enthrall me, JC! You’ve created a work of art with your musings. I believe that the brain is truly limitless, and if an area of the brain becomes weakened, it makes sense that another area awakens to compensate for the trauma in that region.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve not been told that about my musings even though I have wondered what to call it. I could never write a book in a traditional way but a book of musings? Now there’s something to muse about. But it is about the words and how they give even subtle changes. And you and your art know this… I have learned from you. Thanks for the good vibrations… jc

      Liked by 1 person

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