Creativity and Health
A Deleuzian Tautology?
Nick Fox
University of Sheffield
Paper presented to the BSA Medical Sociology
Conference, Durham 2010
• What is Creativity?
• Sociological Approaches to Creativity
• Is Creativity Good for Our Health?
• A Deleuzian Perspective on Creativity and
• Creativity and the Body without Organs
What is Creativity?
I looked for an answer to this within:
• Psychology: a personality trait independent of
• Psychoanalysis: a sublimation of unconscious
desire, usually sexual
• Marxism: a representation of class interests
• Evolutionary theory: successful adaptation
Mark Rothko at work
Sociology and Creativity 1
Sociology tends to focus on the contexts of
creative production
‘ ... aesthetic and scientific practices connect
even in their most intimate moments of
genesis with concrete social and
institutional conditions ‘ (De Fillippi et al
Sociology and Creativity 2
Creativity is a social process:
‘... anything that people can examine and
judge, including communicated ideas and
processes judged independently of the
outcomes they produce. ... a subjective
judgment made by members of the field
about the novelty and value of a product
(Ford 1996)
Exhibits at the Royal Academy summer exhibition
What have we learnt?
• Not a lot
• All the theories skirt around the question of
the creative process
• The missing body: need for an embodied
approach to creativity
• Can the relationship between creativity
and health help?
Is Creativity Good for Us?
• Liberal humanist view that high art is good
for the soul, morality and social order
• Popular view that the arts contribute to
the quality of life
• Art and music therapy
• Arts and health movements (e.g. writers,
artists in residence): under-theorised
Assumptions of the Arts and Health
• Creativity can be therapeutic
• Creative products can ‘humanise’ modern
institutions such as hospitals and schools
• Creative products improve the health of
those in their vicinity
• BUT ...
Is this True?
• Thomas Chatterton
• Vincent Van Gogh
• Amadeo Modigliani
Edvard Munch: ‘The Scream’
Wallis: ‘The Death of Chatterton’, 1856
A Deleuzian Perspective
• Gilles Deleuze: influenced by Nietzschean
concept of ‘the will to power’
• Embodied conception of positive desire
that motivates organisms
• The ‘body-without-organs’ describes what
a body can do and what it can become: its
relations and affects
Relations and Affects
• The sum of psychological, emotional and
physical connections that a body has: with
family and friends, with colleagues, with
objects or activities, or with abstract ideas
and social constructs.
• These establish the limits of the BodyWithout-Organs
Deleuze and Creativity
• From this perspective:
• Creativity is the positive desire of the organism:
the capacity to engage ‘productively’
• Creative products (artistic, crafts, science,
writing, cookery, sexuality etc) are the
‘becoming-other’ of the body
• Creativity reflects the relations and affects of the
Jackson Pollock: Untitled no. 3
Deleuze and ‘Health’
• From this perspective:
• Health is also a reflection of what a body
can do: its capacity to become other
• The sum of the BwO’s relations and
affects define its health
• It would not be surprising to find a relation
between creativity and health
• The two concepts are both aspects of the
capacity of a body to become other
• The arts and health movement may
assess how creative processes may
contribute to well-being: of producers or
• The Deleuzian perspective offers a
theoretical underpinning for those working
on creativity and health
• There is a need for empirical studies using
these theoretical tools, to learn more about
creativity production and reception and
health and sickness

Creativity and Health A Deleuzian Tautology?