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AL Kennedy's Art and Madness

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 22 April 2012

In this highly authored inquiry AL Kennedy questions the clichéd link between madness and creativity, claiming that being true to oneself and exploring ones identity is integral to the making or performing of one's art - however perilous this can seem. Losing one's mind is a negative, terrifying experience, freeing it can be nerve-wracking too, but also exhilarating, beautiful and eloquent - for everyone.

Many artists' creativity has been defined as a kind of obsessive disorder, a compulsion they can barely control. So, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Chekhov chose to continue work rather than seek treatment. Acutely tuned senses, restlessness, intensity of focus, reduced inhibition, depression, a sense of the visionary and heightened imaginative powers are all hallmarks of both the creative and mentally ill individual - a number of recent studies support this link. And yet decades of studies have also questioned conventional definitions of madness, treatments of the "insane" and the long-term effects of "normal" behaviour.

Van Gogh or Virginia Woolf could not work when they were experiencing a psychotic episode; Sylvia Plath was probably pushed to the brink by wrongly prescribed medication - she too could not write during extreme states of depression..

As we hear, making art can be profoundly therapeutic, but to create, perform or make, requires a great deal of control and order.

With contributions from psychologist Dorothy Rowe, psychotherapist Adam Phillips, writer Lisa Appignanesi, playwright John Byrne, pianist James Rhodes, performance artist Bobby Baker, sculptor and artist Cornelia Parker, actor Edward Petherbridge and patients and staff at Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital.

First broadcast in April 2012.


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