Due to the things I have been reading and observing lately, I wonder: what is the importance of an "unbalanced" psyche to the aesthetics of his/her oeuvre?

The trigger of this thought was the fact that I have observed that people who are very calm, well-centered, rarely have the deep and explosive passion that takes them to the obsession that is (apparently?) required for the creation of beautiful books, paintings, music, science, or others. Moreover, I think that maybe those individuals who are "super balanced" might not generally be the most fascinating; there is something about "unbalanced" individuals that seems to be attractive/fascinating to the general public.

Anyways, this is a new idea in me. I am currently looking for sources about this and I have not found any. Maybe it is because I am not sure how to look for it.

(Please forgive me if I failed to produce the technically correct terms. I am not a psychologist nor a philosopher, I am just an enthusiast.)

Thank you very much.

  • 1
    I don't know enough to answer this but Antonio Damasio's "Descartes' Error" may be worth consulting. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descartes%27_Error This assumes that what you mean by calm is rational. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 1:15
  • 1
    Your question would be easier to answer if you said who you are reading and where you are getting these terms. / It sounds like you're reading something contemporary and these are not universally accepted ideas about aesthetics.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 14:19
  • 1
    The deep and explosive passion you speak of must be combined with hard, and often boring and very practical, work. Passion alone will rarely produce a great work of art.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


We want to frame the world in terms of law vs chaos and reason vs emotion, but those are false dichotomies we have inherited from the nature of our politics.

You are starting from an extremely biased interpretation of art. Many artists have been well-balanced people. Passion is not a mental disease, and mental diseases do not constitute genuine passion. The art done in Jungian Art Therapy is not high art that speaks to the world, unless it already would be with all the mental torture absent.

We want to see those who would alter the dominant order as alternately 'creative' and 'crazy', because we both honor and resent our domination by social convention. So we create an imaginary correlation between the two. But history just does not bear it out. We have great crazy innovators, and we have great sane innovators. We have a lot of totally uncreative mentally ill people, and a lot of totally uncreative sane ones.

Being a visionary may be hard on one's emotions, but it does not necessarily affect your mental health. And seriously imagining that the world could be different does not make you crazy by default. These are just two narratives that forgive massive hypocrisy involved in a highly structured society that both wants and hates change.

  • This is such a great answer. Thank you! Question: where does that idea that we "both honor and resent our domination", and "a society that both wants and hates change" come from? I think that comes to solve the second part of my question. Thank you. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 3:48
  • 1
    Most clearly, Freud (a la Civilization and its Discontents), but also Nietzsche, Sartre, Critical Theory, and so many other places that I did not feel it appropriate to choose one. You could even trace it all the way back to the preSocratic notion that all the elements are bound by 'love and strife' if you really wanted to.
    – user9166
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 19:27

Johann Sebastian Bach is a good counterexample to the notion that for great art you must be a tortured soul. By all accounts J.S. Bach was among the most influential artists in history, yet there aren't an awful lot (seemingly) of juicy gossips about him. He had a lot of children, both before and after his wife died and he remarried.


I think that an aesthetic reaction is a neurological phenomenon.

I think that the art object (or other stimulus) elicits a change in the neurological state of the observer.

It would seem that the balance of the observer's psyche could mediate or otherwise effect the phenomenon. However, it doesn't seem that balance / imbalance should either preclude on include the occurrence of the phenomenon.

These phenomena vary. For a given art object, the reaction varies greatly a) by observer b) by attentiveness of the observer c) according to cultural biases and other conditions. The acuity of the reaction in the observer likely describes an extensive range.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .