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Sad but true: study finds depression does not inspire artists’ best work

by Rachel Corbett  |  22 December 2015
Sad but true: study finds depression does not inspire artists’ best work
Pablo Picasso's Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903) at Christie's London in 2010. © SUZANNE PLUNKETT/Reuters/Corbis
There’s a widespread myth that the suicide of Picasso’s friend Carlos Casagemas moved the artist to enter his mournful Blue Period. Does suffering really inspire creativity? Not according to a recent study by Kathryn Graddy, an economics professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Graddy analysed sales data and museum acquisition histories for 12,000 works made between 1900 and 1920. She found that those created within a year of a loved one’s death sold for significantly less at auction than examples by the same artist created during less turbulent times. Works painted within two years of a personal loss were also significantly less likely to be included in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. “The concept of a ‘flow state’ that people enter when being very creative has gained acceptance by psychologists,” Graddy writes in her report, Death, Bereavement and Creativity. But distraction is the “enemy of flow” and thus, “death and bereavement can reduce creativity”.

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