The thesis of a direct link between ‘madness’ and ‘creativity’ is a supposition that cannot stand much scrutiny, any more than can that of one between ‘madness’ and ‘religion’, we argued in reviewing Antonia White’s The Hound and the Falcon. Correlations such as these, however, might be considered congenial to the modern (as well as the postmodern) mindset, insofar as their plausibility rests on an assumed disjunction between rational and numinous (religious or otherwise transcendent) modes of apprehension. Perhaps this helps to account for their enduring appeal.
The most down-to-earth comment we have recently read on the subject is that by the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, who writes in her book Of Two Minds (Vintage, 2001): “Being mad probably does not make you creative, but if you are creative, glimpsing the depths of human despair and then reaching the heights of confidence with infinite energy probably enhances your ability to use your gift.”
Staff here at the Archives & Museum would love to be flies on the wall at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, on 26 April, to witness a roundtable discussion on creativity, madness and religion, each of which played their part in the biography of William Kurelek (19227-1977), one that was no less extraordinary than that of Antonia White. Kurelek’s work features prominently in the Archives & Museum’s displays, and he is currently the subject of a major retrospective exhibition that is currently touring Canada.
Closer to home, BBC Radio 3 is scheduled to broadcast the reflections of the author A.L. Kennedy questioning “the clichéd link between madness and creativity” together with a range of conversation partners, including Bethlem’s own Archivist And Gallery Co-ordinator, on Sunday 22 April 2012. In addition, tomorrow evening our Friends Secretary will take part in a free panel event connected to the English National Opera’s production of Jacob Lenz, debating the topic ‘Madness and Sanity are often two sides of the same coin’ with other guests including journalist and writer Jon Ronson and Radio 3 presenter Stephen Johnson. To book, call the Hampstead Theatre box office on 020 7722 9301.