Does Drug Use Stop Creativity
Ancient Cave Paintings Demonstrate Possible Drug Influences
News magazine THE WEEK recently carried an article which discussed a possible link between drug use and artistic creativity. Specifically, it focused on a number of different cave paintings that have been discovered in locations scattered across the globe. The caves where the paintings were found are so far apart that the artists, who lived approximately 40,000 years ago, would never have been able to make contact within their own lifetimes. What is remarkable about these paintings is that many of them share similar patterns that indicate some type of common source of inspiration on the part of the artists. Researchers based in Tokyo have been studying these paintings, and claim to have identified this inspiration as being hallucinogenic drugs. They base their claim on evidence that the patterns used in the paintings bear strong resemblance to visual patterns that people typically see while under the influence of psychedelic drugs. These patterns are explained through reference to Turing instabilities, mathematical explanations of the ways in which substances behave when they come into contact with other substances in differing concentrations and environments. In the context of visual phenomena produced by hallucinogenic drugs, the Turing instabilities are used to explain the ways that the brain responds to the drugs. Given that the patterns used in the cave paintings appear similar to certain things that drug users often see when getting high on psychedelics, the Tokyo researchers are suggesting that the ancient artists were all using such drugs, and that this accounts for the common themes in their paintings.
This report comes as only the latest in a long series of references to the supposed links between drug use and creativity. In support of their hypothesis, the researchers refer to the fact that people who see the types of visual phenomena that may have been experienced by the cave-dwelling artists often attribute meaning and often profound significance to their visions. Basically, they are suggesting that the drugs inspired our ancestors to engage in creativity and to produce art. In doing so, they join an almost innumerable group of others who have made similar claims. Throughout the 20th century, many people have come forward with the idea that using drugs makes one more creative and improves one’s artistic ability. The idea has certainly caught on, and as a result a large percentage of painters, musicians, writers, actors and other artists now operate under the belief that they have to be high or stoned in order to turn out their best work. Because artists to an enormous degree are responsible for weaving the fabric of the society that the rest of us live in, this idea has worked to further promote drug use among people from all walks of life. Given this domino effect, it is important to ask the question, do drugs actually increase creativity?
Effect of Drugs on Artistic Ability
The answer is a resounding “No.” Drugs do not contribute anything to one’s mind and ability to create art; they only amplify certain phenomena of the mind and alter one’s perceptions. In other words, they are only modifying whatever creative ability a person already has. On its own, this might not necessarily be a bad thing, but when you look at the full picture you can see that using drugs not only does not actually boost a person’s natural creativity, it actually tends to reduce it. Drugs may artificially cause an elevated mood in which a person might feel more inspired to create or have more energy to engage in artistic endeavors. They may also provide one with new experiences that he or she had not thought of before. But in doing so they can also cause serious problems.
The effects of the drugs tend to deplete the body’s natural stores of hormones, neurotransmitters and nutrients, with the result that the user winds up feeling exhausted, frayed on the edges and even depressed afterwards. This letdown usually leads the person to reach for more drugs, which throws him or her into a downward spiral of drug abuse and addiction. The highs stop being so high, and the lows get lower. Furthermore, long-term or heavy drug use will often cause profound negative changes to behavior, personality and cognitive ability, all of which can interfere with one’s ability to produce beautiful and meaningful works of art. Anyone who wants to make a career out of being an artist, or simply wants to be able to create art as a hobby, should avoid drugs and look for other ways to find inspiration.