Genius, Creativity and Madness

Vladimir Lerner, M.D., Ph.D., Jacob Margolin, M.D. and Eliezer Witztum, M.D.
Be’er Sheva Mental Health Center, Be’er-Sheva, Israel

Series: Psychology Research Progress
BISAC: PSY030000




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This book deals with the complex relationship between the highest form of human activity — creativity — and mental illness. The heroes of this book are brilliant geniuses in various fields: three writers, four painters and three musicians.

The common denominator of these figures is that they lived in Russia in the nineteenth century, a period of cultural and artistic blossoming. Besides the extraordinary creativity they had — each in his own domain — these great figures have another common denominator — their tragic fate. Two committed suicide, two became disabled with severe depression, two were addicted to alcohol, and another died from the complications of brain disease. These psychopathological processes led to the decline in their creativity and to their eventual deaths. However, their struggle with their inner “demons” is also largely what gave meaning to their lives, suffering and work.
The authors have demonstrated that in order to understand the nature and the complexity of their works of art, one must recognize the structure of their personalities and comprehend the various psychopathological components that affected their lives.

In this book, the authors draw upon examples of many psychopathological possibilities: developmental deprivation and early loss in childhood, psychiatric disorders such as mood and psychotic disorders, the influence of organic factors like brain disease (e.g., following an infection such as syphilis) or alcohol abuse, and the overall effect these factors had on the course of the subjects’ personal lives.
It is most ironic that the artistic works of these gifted but tortured, broken souls have uplifted and inspired generations of art lovers, bringing them immense pleasure and meaning.



Chapter 1. The Complicated Relationship between Creativity and Psychopathology (pp. 1-14)

Chapter 2. Creativity and Insanity: The Enigmatic Medical Biography of Nikolai Gogol (pp. 15-38)

Chapter 3. The Tragic Life and Suicide of Vsevolod Garshin (1855-1888): Creativity and Affective Disorder (pp. 39-64)

Chapter 4. Mikalojus Ciurlionis’s Illness and Its Relationship to His Creativity (pp. 65-88)

Chapter 5. Creativity and Mood Disorders: Isaak Levitan (pp. 89-110)

Chapter 6. Pyotr Tchaikovsky: The Struggle with Identity and Suicide (pp. 111-138)

Chapter 7. Modest Mussorgsky: Distorted Pictures at an Exhibition (pp. 139-184)

Chapter 8. Muse and Alcohol: Alexey Kondratyevich Savrasov (1830-1897) (pp. 185-204)

Chapter 9. Alcoholism (pp. 205-210)

Chapter 10. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881): Creativity, Epilepsy, and Religion (pp. 211-258)

Chapter 11. Epilepsy (pp. 259-268)

Chapter 12. Alexander Scriabin: Enlightenment or Illness? (pp. 269-290)

Chapter 13. The Flight and the Downfall of the Demon: Creativity and Illness in Vrubel’s Life (pp. 291-316)

Epilogue (pp. 317-318)

Index (pp. 319)

Chapter 1

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Chapter 2

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Chapter 3

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Chapter 4

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Chapter 5

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Chapter 13

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Vrubel, M. V. (1963). Vrubel: Correspondence. Reminiscences about the Artist. Leningrad-Moscow: Iskusstvo.
Witztum, E., & Lerner, V. (2008). Genius and Madness. The Complicate Relationship between Creativity and Psychopathology. Tel Aviv: Aryeh Nir Publishers Ltd.
Yaremich, C. (1911). Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel: The Life and Creation. Moscow: Knebel.

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