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Scientists: The 'Tortured Artist' Is a Real Thing

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The trope of the tortured creative genius has persisted since Plato proposed banning poetry—long enough to seem like more than mere coincidence. From the emotionally unstable writer to the suicidal actor to the artist who cuts off his own ear, history is riddled with examples that bring the myth to life. But is there any science linking creativity output to madness? A new—and controversial—study concludes that indeed, creative genius and mental disorders are connected at a genetic level.

The new research, published in Nature Neuroscience, comes from Dr. Kári Stefánsson, a neurologist and CEO of a biological research company called deCODE Genetics. Stefánsson and his colleagues studied genetic data from more than 80,000 people in Iceland looking for genetic variants that increase the risk of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. They then looked for those variants in 1000 “creative” people and found these people were 17 percent more likely to carry the variants for mental illness than noncreative types.

“The risk for schizophrenia is substantially higher in creative professions than in the average population in Iceland," Stefánsson told NPR.

The team then replicated these results looking at data from large studies carried out in Sweden and the Netherlands. In these findings, the variants for mental disorders were nearly 25 percent more common in creative people. "What we have shown is basically is that schizophrenia and creativity share biology," Stefánsson says.

Not so fast, some researchers are saying. “Any particular set of genes is only going to explain a very small part of variation in any psychological trait," says Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Indeed, the variants in the new study have a tiny, miniscule impact on creativity—less than 1 percent.

The study authors defined creative people as those working in an artistic profession or belonging to national artistic societies. But “belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature, does not prove a person is creative,” Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, tells the Guardian. “Many people who have mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data.”

This isn't the first time researchers have found a link between creativity and madness. A 2012 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that creative professionals are 8 percent more likely than the general population to be bipolar. Writers are especially vulnerable, the researchers say, being 120 percent more prone to suffer from bipolar disorder. Writers were also more likely to abuse substances and take their own lives. 

Another study also suggests creatives are more likely to have relatives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder than the general public. But what’s the real connection between those characteristics? Is this about genes, or can it be chalked up to environmental influences? 

Yet another theory says creativity and mental illness share a process called “cognitive disinhibition,” or a failure to filter out all the useless information one encounters in the world. As Eric Jaffe at Co.Design explains it, “this failure may make schizotypal personalities more prone to delusional thoughts or mental confusion; on the flipside, it could make creative minds more fertile.”

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Nikola Bradonjic
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Design
5 Wacky Ideas to Redesign the Skateboard
Design by Karim Rashid
Design by Karim Rashid
Nikola Bradonjic

Most skateboards come in a few basic shapes. They may be different widths or lengths, have kicktails or flat noses, or different imagery painted on their decks, but for the average rider, they look fairly similar. That’s not the case with the skateboard decks below, created as part of a competition during NYCxDESIGN, an annual New York City design festival.

For a competition called DeckxDesign, the award-winning design firm frog asked a group of notable branding agencies, artists, product designers, and other creative professionals to reimagine the humble skateboard.

This is the second NYCxDesign competition frog has hosted—in 2017, the agency asked designers to reimagine the dart board.

This time, individual designers like Karim Rashid and groups from firms like MakerBot, Motivate (the company behind bike sharing systems like Citi Bike), and frog itself came up with new ways to skate. There were no rules, just the simple prompt: Design a skateboard.

The results included a piece of furniture, a repurposed Citi Bike tube on wheels, a board covered in greenery, one covered in black faux alpaca hair, a skateboard made from recycled trash, and more. Below are some of the most unusual.

A white table that looks like a skateboard
Design by Aruliden
Nikola Bradonjic

A recycled piece of a Citi Bike on wheels
Design by Citi Bike/Motivate
Nikola Bradonjic

A wavy skateboard with purple, spherical wheels
Design by Karim Rashid
Nikola Bradonjic

A skateboard covered in faux alpaca fiber
Design by Staple Design
Nikola Bradonjic

A skateboard covered in mounds of greenery
Design by XY Feng & Jung Soo Park
Nikola Bradonjic

All of the skateboards created for the competition were later auctioned off to benefit the New York City-based nonprofit Art Start.

All images by Nikola Brandonjic

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Art
Google Launches World's Largest Digital Collection of Frida Kahlo Artifacts
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Fans of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have a lot of new material to sift through, thanks to Google’s launch of the largest-ever digital exhibition of artworks and artifacts related to the painter. As reported by Forbes, the “Faces of Frida” retrospective and its 800-item collection were the result of a collaboration between the Google Arts & Culture platform and 33 museums around the world.

A screenshot of Google's digital archive of Frida Kahlo artworks
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Visitors to the website can peruse rare artworks from private collections that had never been digitized until now, including View of New York, a sketch Kahlo made in 1932 while staying at the former Barbizon-Plaza Hotel. There are also personal photographs of Kahlo, as well as letters and journal entries that she penned.

Using Street View, you can even see inside the “Blue House” where she lived in Mexico City. Another feature lets visitors zoom in on high-resolution paintings, which were created using Google’s Art Camera, according to designboom.

For Google executives, the decision to celebrate the life and work of Kahlo was a no-brainer. “Frida's name kept coming up as a top contender when we started to think of what artist would be the best to feature in a retrospective,” Jesús Garcia, Google's head of Hispanic communications, told Forbes. “There's so much of her that was not known and could still be explored from an artistic perspective and life experience.”

An original artwork by multimedia artist Alexa Meade was specially commissioned for “Faces of Frida.” Photographer Cristina Kahlo, Kahlo’s great-niece, aided in the process. Check out the video below to see how she brought Kahlo's artwork to life in a living, breathing painting.

[h/t Forbes]

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