Art and Depression: Jim Carrey’s “I Needed Color”
Jim Carrey, once known as the king of movie comedies, has been largely absent from film in recent years. His last high-visibility role was in 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To.
Carrey has been in the news lately for a different role: the inspiration for a fellow comedian to recognize his own depression. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah credited Carrey with pointing out the possibility that he was depressed and encouraging him to get help.
Carrey opened up about his struggles with depression in a 2004 60 Minutes interview in which indicated he was “on Prozac for a long time.”
“There are peaks, there are valleys,” he said. “But they’re all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you’re not getting any answers, but you’re living okay. And you can smile at the office. You know? But it’s a low level of despair?”
So, what has he been doing in recent years?
The surprising answer is painting and sculpting, and participating in a micro-documentary about it.
“I Needed Color” is a six-minute film narrated by Carrey and directed/produced by David Bushell. It has been viewed more than 5 million times since it was first posted online in July.
“You can tell what I love by the color of the paintings,” he says in the video. “You can tell my inner life by the darkness in some of them and you can tell what I want from the brightness in some of them.”
Carrey is hardly the first artist to struggle with depression – consider Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Psychiatrists have searched for the relationship between creative minds and depression for decades. In 2012, researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute tracked nearly 1.2 million Swedish psychiatric patients and their relatives. The patients demonstrated conditions ranging from schizophrenia and depression to ADHD and anxiety syndromes.
The researchers found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were 8% more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers alone were a staggering 121% more likely to suffer from the condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
They also found that people in creative professions were more likely to have relatives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia and autism.
Rob Blair of the Creative Writing Guild, put it this way, “Some studies have shown that creativity and depression are linked, but correlation doesn’t equal cause. We know depression and creativity co-exist, but it’s like this: If you have severe depression, you have to get pretty damn creative to survive it.”
Carrey says he has always loved art, and has been sketching since he was young. But when he took up painting in earnest six years ago, in an attempt to “heal a broken heart,” he became “obsessed.”
He explains, “I like the independence of it. I love the freedom of it. No one else tells you what you can or can’t do, most of the time. And there’s an immediacy to it.”
In an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Carrey brings Jerry Seinfeld to his southern California studio, noting he is the first person to see it. With the sheer volume of paints and canvasses and finished art, Carrey’s “obsession” is on clear display.
“Something inside you is always telling a story. I believe every single thing you see and hear is talking to you.”
Carrey’s art is challenging. He incorporates religion in Jesus-like faces, along with brightly colored portraits, abstracts and sculpted clay figures.
“I don’t know what painting teaches me,” Carrey says in the film, “I know that it just frees me — free from the future, free from the past, free from regret, free from worry.”
Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London, “connects the mere viewing of beautiful paintings with an increase of dopamine and activity in the pleasure center of the brain, resulting in feelings similar to the throes of romantic love.”
In Spiritualty and Health, Amanda Alders, president of the Florida chapter of the American Art Therapy Association explained: “Art therapy shifts the focus to creating, enjoying, and sharing positive external stimuli. Patients choose colors and textures they enjoy.”
“The bottom line with all of this, whether its performance or art or sculpture, is love,” says Carrey in the documentary. “We want to show ourselves and have that be accepted. I love being alive and the art is the evidence of that.”
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