Keep it Grounded or be Brilliant?

There seems to be a tradeoff between artistic brilliance and sanity.

I wonder if some of the great artists of the past who worked under patrons and achieved madness-inducing brilliance did so precisely because of the patronage system. When you are sheltered from contact with customers and markets for daily sustenance, you are afforded the space to go insane and also maybe make some crazy good art.

The idea of such a tradeoff makes me uncomfortable, and I hope it’s true that people can achieve peak brilliance while maintaining total sanity. But the evidence doesn’t look too good.

In a wealthy society, the number of people who don’t have to be connected to market exchanges for their daily bread is large. The scope for artistic and intellectual exploration is high. As such, the odds of becoming crazy are high.

I don’t know if people ever have a true meet the devil at the crossroads moment of choosing, where the option to stay good and grounded is offered against becoming great and mad, but if they do, I wonder what percentage of people would choose which. And I wonder later if they’d change that decision.

It’s not uncommon to encounter brilliant types who seem tortured with regret and a constant wish to be less volatile. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a grounded person who wishes they’d traded some sanity for brilliance.

Yet the world would be a lot less interesting if no one ever made that choice. So here’s to the crazy ones I guess. Your willingness to trade sanity for brilliance might not make your life better, but it definitely makes ours more interesting.