Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

4 March, 2001Thesis Rough Draft
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by a preoccupation with details,

orderliness, perfection, and control. People with this disorder often devote excessive amounts

of time to work and productivity and fail to take time for leisure activities and friendships. They

tend to be rigid, formal, stubborn, and serious. This disorder differs from obsessive-compulsive

disorder, which often includes more bizarre behavior and rituals.[1]

“To the walls and halls of Bedlam

the artist is welcome-

Bold brush and full palette.”

This stanza from Robert Graves’ “The Halls of Bedlam” seems to allude to the long courtship that art and mental illness have maintained. In this paper I will try to briefly explain the history of that courtship and try to show my speculations on the subject of the connection between artists, metalsmiths especially, and obsessive compulsive behavior.

Art in general, and jewelry in particular is a field that is meticulous and scrupulous. It requires one’s full attention and preoccupation and often times consumes a person, like a disease. It is often suggested that artists that work with soft, tactile, (for lack of a more technical word) mushy mediums, like clay or paint, are arrested in the so-called “anal” stage of development. This stage is one that lasts while the child is a toddler and often includes in itself a great joy from smushing and smearing. Having done a significant amount of painting and ceramics work myself I can attest to the fact that smushing is definitely a big part of the enjoyment of the process. Recycling clay, for instance would not be half as much fun if it did not involve being up to one’s elbows or higher in wet clay. This gives a whole new meaning to the saying “ happy as a pig in mud”.

But the connection between mental disorders and creativity is not a new one. In fact, the speculations were first appearing in the time of ancient Greece. As shown by many studies, there is a proven link between a creative gift and the risk of mental disorder. In fact, the prevalence of mental problems among creatively gifted people is significantly higher than in the general population. This would suggest that genius, as a result of creative aptitude, and madness are connected by a non-casual link.

The Italian psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso has been the most adamant supporter of this hypothesis of this century. In his book, "The Man of Genius", Lombroso presents his thesis saying that genius and lunacy are two extremes that have a shared genetic basis. Lombroso was not the first to assert that there is a tight link between mental illness and creative achievement. More than two millennia earlier, in the fragment known as "Problemata XXX", Aristotle, raised the question as to why the vast majority of the celebrated people are afflicted by "melancholy", i. e. suffer from a mental disorder. Cesare Lombroso was among the first to apply a less anecdotal method to the investigation of the relationship between the creative gift and the risk of a mental illness, offering an answer that is nevertheless the positivistic version of the romantic myth. (Positivism, system of philosophy based on experience and empirical knowledge of natural phenomena, in which metaphysics and theology are regarded as inadequate and imperfect systems of knowledge.[2]) Most studies performed in the positivistic era in order to either confirm, or refute, Lombroso\'s hypothesis rest on biographical evidence. This raises the question whether or not these studies were biased by overexposure. For individuals, such as artists in the public eye more information is available about their private lives: this could determine an apparently higher prevalence of disorders that tend, as a result of negative stigma, to be hidden whenever possible. In addition, some temperamental traits widespread among creative people, like eccentricity, uneasiness, propensity to excess and experimentation, could be a reflection not only of an underlying mental disorder, but also, and above all, of the tolerance by society of the behavior of individuals who obtain achievement. In some way this behavior will be a secondary product of the achievement, rewarded since it permits the expression of dissenting demands which by the majority of people are not able to express and which are not directly linked to the creative utterance.[3]

Despite these