Art and mental disturbance

Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D.

In order to concretely conceptualize the creative artist who may be on the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, I define the “successful creative artist” to be a person who has received the respect and acknowledgement for his or her work by a community of his or her peers or of society at large and who is also considered both psychologically and ethically to be a “well adjusted” member of his or her society and the greater world.

I use the term “creative artist” quite generally, to include various creative disciplines, such as music, writing, painting, dance, mathematics, science, etc., as well as socially creative innovations that are beneficial to humankind. I propose what I refer to as the “artistic theory of psychology,” with the following basic premises: 1. the successful creative artist resonates with the highest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of human potential; 2. there are some people labeled as mentally ill who have the potential of becoming successful creative artists; 3. a sensitive, understanding, supportive educational environment may be conducive to enabling a mentally disturbed person with creative artistic potential to significantly develop and actualize this potential in life.

Along the lines of Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing, that which is referred to as “mental illness” is viewed from a nonjudgmental perspective but with the distinctive feature of suggesting that some people who are considered to be mentally ill may have significant creative artistic potential that can be highly therapeutic for them to engage in , both for themselves and for society at large.

Benjamin, E. (2008). Art and mental disturbance. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(1), 61-88.

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