The Intersection of Death and Creativity

As the saying goes, “Genius is sorrow’s child.”

mourning

Psychologists Christopher Long and Dara Greenwood recently investigated the connection between death and creativity. They asked a group of undergraduates to write humorous captions for New Yorker cartoons. Some of the students were first primed with subliminal messages of death. These students produced cartoons judged to be more creative and more humorous. The conclusion is that the inability to acknowledge and mourn loss leads to a shutdown of vital creative impulses. On the flip side, the resolution of loss allows for a fresh start and renewed access to sources of creativity.

Mourning, it seems, is not only vital for our mental health but for our creative lives as well.

This might explain why a disproportionately large number of creative geniuses lost a parent, usually a father, at a young age. A study of some 700 historical figures found that 35% lost a parent by age 15, and nearly half by age 20. The list includes Dante, Bach, Darwin, Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and more. These creative geniuses possessed not only an ability to rebound from suffering but also to transform that suffering into creativity.

Risky Business (A Poem)

It’s risky business
Falling in love
Electrical currents
Eyes lit up

The onrush of bliss brings
an ambush of sorrow
Wondering if it will last
Praying it will tomorrow

Such complicated feelings
For such a decidedly simple thing
Love conquers all
Even the fear that it first brings

The Many Faces of Christmas (A Poem)

Cold streets, winter nights

Warm windows, wrapped with lights

Loneliness and hands that freeze

Mistletoes and sparkling trees

Santa Clause finds some, not all

Some are at the Christmas Ball

While some are huddled close together

Under bridges, facing weather

Some are warm, by a fire

Some at stores, the constant buyer

Some in Church, singing praise

Some are gone, been so for days

As you join family and friends

Think of all the faces that Christmas lends

And don’t complain, whatever you do

There’s always someone who has it worse than you.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Corrie ten Boom