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, KayRedfield 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 stillevolving 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 r…
…ve them of their inspiration and interfere with their creativity. It is a thorny, and relatively new, question, and Jamison merely outlines the controversy without offering an opinion on what should be done to rectify the situation, leaving the door open for further research. Mental illness in artists is a fascinating subject, and Jamison does an excellent job of providing a through portrait of many artists who have grappled with manic-depressive disorder, in addition to exploring how these disorders affect creativity and productivity. Jamison also maintains an awareness of the objections to her attempts to draw a correlationbetween the mental illness and the artistic community, and addresses these issues accordingly.
1) Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the ArtisticTemperament. Ontario: Free Press, 1993.