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January 9, 1991

Creativity and Disease: How Illness Affects Literature, Art and Music

Author Affiliations

Benton, Ill

Benton, Ill

JAMA. 1991;265(2):284. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460020142049

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Illness is unarguably one of life's most cataclysmic forces. Although sickness is most often disruptive and negative, Creativity and Disease suggests alternate ways in which suffering and malady can influence human life. By examinaing the lives and creative products of multiple artistic valetudinarians (musicians, writers, and artists), the physician-author of this book, Philip Sandblom, successfully explores the intriguing kinetics of illness, art, and creativity.

The book is organized into chapters focusing on specific diseases (such as tuberculosis, mental illness, sensory defects, and congenital malformations) and their relationship to creative expression. Other chapters inquire into various themes, including peculiarities of the creative personality, kindling of creative forces, and artists' views of physicians and medicine. Even a partial roster of afflicted celebrities is quite impressive: Dostoevsky, Chopin, van Gogh, Nietzsche, Klee, Byron, Renoir, Beethoven, and Chekhov.

Sandblom suggests multiple ways in which disease impacts on talent and individual creativity. First, disease can