Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 15, Iss. 2, April, 2011, pp. 207-227
@2011 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


Chaos, Creativity, and Substance Abuse: The Nonlinear Dynamics of Choice

Tobi Zausner, Saybrook University, San Francisco, CA

Abstract: Artists create their work in conditions of disequilibrium, states of creative chaos that may appear turbulent but are capable of bringing forth new order. By absorbing information from the environment and discharging it negentropically as new work, artists can be modeled as dissipative systems. A characteristic of chaotic systems is a heightened sensitivity to stimuli, which can generate either positive experiences or negative ones that can lead some artists to substance abuse and misguided searches for a creative chaos. Alcohol and drug use along with inadequately addressed co-occurring emotional disorders interfere with artists” quest for the nonlinearity of creativity. Instead, metaphorically modeled by a limit cycle of addiction and then a spiral to disorder, the joys of a creative chaos become an elusive chimera for them rather than a fulfilling experience. Untreated mental illness and addiction to substances have shortened the lives of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Jackson Pollock, all of whom committed suicide. In contrast Edvard Munch and John Callahan, who chose to address their emotional problems and substance abuse, continued to live and remain creative. Choosing to access previously avoided moments of pain can activate the nonlinear power of self-transformation.

Keywords: chaos theory, creativity, art, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, choice