Creativity and Disease: How Illness Affects Literature, Art and Music

Sandblom, Philip

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn
  • Date of entry: May-11-1999
  • Last revised: Jan-22-2007


In a fascinating and wide-ranging series of chapters organized by categories of disease or disability that have afflicted known artists, writers, and musicians, Sandblom examines the multifaceted relationship between creative work and illness. He begins his discussions of particular artists usually with basic information about the nature of the affliction and its manifestations; where available, introduces the artist’s own comments upon his or her condition; and then analyzes how particular works represent or implicitly allude to the illness. In some cases the disease is a context; in others a theme; in others a vehicle or tenor of metaphor.

The book is richly illustrated with reproductions of paintings, parts of musical scores, and poems or prose excerpts. Artists and writers under discussion include Bacon, Beethoven, Jorge Luis Borges, the Brontes, George Gordon Byron, Cezanne, Anton P.Chekhov, Chopin, Emily Dickinson, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franz Kafka, John Keats, Mahler, Thomas Mann, Herman Melville, John Milton, Flannery O’Connor, Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Titian, John Updike, William Wordsworth, and Yeats, to name a few.


For a small work this book casts a wide net. But it manages to be tantalizing rather than superficial. The provocative comments on particular artists and works serve as trailheads; one wants to find out more about the life, the work, and the illness. Sandblom permits himself speculation, but his candor about what is speculative maintains a clear distinction between supposition and established fact or verifiable data. A wonderful resource for those interested in initiating discussion of the complex relationships between illness and creative work.



The book was revised in 1987. Dr. Sandblom was born in the U.S. and educated in Sweden, where he eventually became Professsor of Surgery, and then President of the University of Lund. He also did research and teaching in the U.S.


George F. Stickley

Place Published




Page Count