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Medical Both Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse suffered from bipolar disorder

  1. Nov 1, 2011 #1
    Both Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse suffered from bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder. Both rocketed to international fame but died young of unnatural causes. Kurt shot himself at the peak of his career (April 5, 1994). Amy's career was largely over after winning 5 Grammy Awards in March 2008. She finally died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011. Her decline was slow and ugly although she did manage to get off hard drugs by about 2009. The question here is, how much did these artists' personal dysfunction contribute to their work? If they were "normal" people, would they have created the music they did? Would they have struck a "chord" with so many people if they were well adjusted happy people? Winehouse in particular has said she wrote her songs to gain relief. When she was happy, she couldn't write songs she was willing to record. There have been many famous bipolar individuals.


    Obviously not all creative people have mental problems, but does it help?
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 1, 2011
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  3. Nov 1, 2011 #2


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    I think the answer to that is found more in the truth that not anywhere near all people with mental problems are creative. In fact, I'd hazzard a guess that the vast majority of people with mental problems are NOT creative.
  4. Nov 1, 2011 #3
    I agree. I probably should have added "... in some cases." The point is that both these artists actually refused treatment precisely because they thought it would interfere with their creativity. Cobain did take lithium for a while, but did not remain compliant. He even wrote a song about it.
  5. Nov 1, 2011 #4


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    When bipolar people refuse treatment, most of the decisions they make, starting with the decision to not take treatment, are bad ones. They just THINK they are good ones.
  6. Nov 1, 2011 #5
    Could you or anyone say that the treatment would not interfere with their creativity, particularly in the case of these two artists.?
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2011
  7. Nov 1, 2011 #6


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    I personally did not enjoy the works of either of these two individuals.

    Eric Clapton and Keith Richards both went though some very hard slogs with heroin and other drugs. Both contributed greatly to what we'd today consider "British Rock" and have come out of their travails without the tailspin that other performers have dove into. I wouldn't want either of their lives. Music and drug abuse are not inseparable at all, but there are popular trends that blur that. If you know anything about Keith Moon, you probably know what I mean.
  8. Nov 1, 2011 #7


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    "Bad" is subjective.

    Some people choose a bright, short burn to a dim, long burn.
  9. Nov 1, 2011 #8


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    Nope, I can only say they're dead.
  10. Nov 1, 2011 #9


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    Their depression, anxiety and psychosis may give them something to write about, but their talent is there with or without the problems. They may feel more like using their talent when they feel bad.
  11. Nov 1, 2011 #10


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    I've known quite a few people with bipolar and borderline personality disorder (not really borderline) that have said when they are on their various meds it makes their "subjective experience dull". They have told me that their feelings, etc seem detached and "lifeless". I don't know if that is an effect of the meds (it very well could be with anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety meds) or if it is the fact, they are used to experiencing things in a "hyper-emotional/sense" state.

    However, its not uncommon for people with BPD or bipolar to cycle in and out of treatment. It's pretty SOP for both mental disorders. BPD especially breeds a mistrust of authority and doctors in particular, which make it very hard and frustrating to treat for healthcare practitioners.
  12. Nov 2, 2011 #11
    Being bi-polar helps in so far as someone trying to build a career on some "creative" endeavor has to believe, deep down, they are worth everyone else's attention. Bipolar people on the upswing are completely selfish, self absorbed, and sometimes have delusions of grandeur. Some percentage of them can be superhumanly self-confident in a way that is infectious, charming, and provocative. Without being particularly creative they can imbue everything they do with such energy and verve that you can't take your eyes off them, and they can spin themselves to you such that you end up believing they are a genius, when they actually have little to back that up. They are masters of The Halo Effect and their gravity is more massive than anyone else around, such that everyone else around starts orbiting them. Feeding off all the attention they've pulled in they get more and more massive, pulling in more and more energy. Then they go supernova:

  13. Nov 2, 2011 #12
    In these two cases, their work product is out there for everyone to judge. Musical tastes vary and judging art in general is subjective. Cobain was at least a huge commercial success and Winehouse was a critical as well as a commercial success although not as much as Cobain in the latter category. She started as a jazz singer and was recognized as exceptional from an early age. Her second album was more geared toward a popular audience but still was very "retro" mixing jazz, soul and R&B styles. Both Cobain and Winehouse were very serious about their music and their sudden fame was not expected. The stress of that fame probably contributed to their downfall.

    I know more about Winehouse than Cobain and it seems quite clear that her creativity was fed by her despair. Her life experiences, particularly in relationships, were not all that unusual, but were the source of considerable pain for her. Without that pain, it seems she would have remained a talented but obscure jazz singer.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  14. Nov 2, 2011 #13
    The implication of a statement like this is that suffering is necessary to art. I think this is a meme started by people in response to the life of van Gogh, and it's spread far and wide ever since while having no merit.

    If you read biographies of artists you'll find it common that they pulled themselves out of depressions by periods of hard work. People mistake the depression for the key factor when it's actually the hard work that did the trick in producing the art. Depression and suffering are, unfortunately, commonplace, with no corresponding creative fruit:
    Bipolar people are attention-suckers when they're manic or hypomanic and if their mania is of the upbeat, "positive" kind (as opposed to irritable mania) they really do manage to become the center of attention wherever they go basically by being so invulnerably convinced they should be.

    Among those, some small percentage have managed to authentically cultivate some talent worth having a look at. It's important to realize that this is atypical. Something has happened in these cases outside the paradigm of the disease. Bipolar people are actually much more often than not too unstable to get anything useful accomplished. Their manias consist of wasting money, driving recklessly, harranging strangers, sexual promiscuity, or episodes of intense work on 'creative' projects that are of very poor quality or which they just don't have the skill to realize (you'll often hear manic people claim they wrote the Great American Novel in their head the night before, or figured out the solution to world poverty, etc).

    So, in answer to your question, I would say their personal dysfunction (depression, suffering) contributed nothing to their work. In fact, we can put a minus sign in front of it when doing the math, and attribute whatever success they had to whatever personal discipline they managed to acquire in conjunction with whatever manic sense of self confidence they had.
  15. Nov 2, 2011 #14
    agreed, its just matter of motivation, sometimes a bad mood motivates people to make good music, good art, and or good literature
  16. Nov 2, 2011 #15
    Take a look at some of my recent posts here. I suffer from treatment-resistant Bipolar Disorder and am currently struggling with a Mathematics Graduate Program. Perhaps you can gain some insight into the disorder through reading my posts.
  17. Nov 5, 2011 #16
    I don't know if there is a correlation between mental health and creativity, but there could be. Music is often an expression of some type of emotion or some type of feeling, but that does not implicate mental problems. Success, be it creative or be it business, is strongly correlated with hard work. I'm only aware of one instance where someone's first song became a big hit. Usually artists are in several bands before hand and in the case of, say, the Beatles, they lived and breathed music. You pose an interesting question, and I don't know the answer. Perhaps if these individuals did not have mental problems, they would have been even more successful.
  18. Nov 5, 2011 #17


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    No, your conclusion is far too strong.

    Suffering is one muse for creativity for some people. The corollary is not implied - that creativity requires suffering as a muse.
  19. Nov 5, 2011 #18


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    I think you can date it earlier than that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorrows_of_Young_Werther
  20. Nov 5, 2011 #19
  21. Nov 16, 2011 #20
    Kurt Cobain influenced a generation of music. Amy Winehouse was basically a one hit wonder.
    I made http://essayscouncil.com/" during my academic years. At that time i did reaserch on this personality. The study about him is an excellent experience.
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