Good news for bad moods


Dear Artist,

You may have noticed the odd times when something is irking you, putting you into a bad mood, and you sit down at your easel and do good work. While it’s not as pleasant as when you’re in a good mood and everything is coming up peonies, it works to your benefit in another way. In my experience, a bad mood helps the attention span and the critical faculties — not necessarily to be more creative — but with a wider vision and a sharper focus.

Before you start to rub me out as a certified nutter, I have to tell you that Professor Joseph Forgas at the University of New South Wales in Australia has now produced research that shows people in a negative mood are more critical and more attentive than regular happy folks.

Sadness, he found, actually promotes information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with demanding situations. Other bad-mood benefits the professor found included less gullibility, improved assessment of others, and memory improvement.

In my case, as a kid I might have been “blessed with a sunny disposition,” as my mom used to say, but it was in my quieter, reflective moods that I made my art. Darker moods came and went, and I remember doing the odd decent thing while in them. Fact is, I still do. I’m wildly curious to know if anyone else might have noticed something similar.

Perhaps the good-work-in-a-bad-mood syndrome has something to do with the simple realization that when all else fails one can still paint. It’s as if art is a sanctuary and a safe haven from life’s inevitable disappointments. All humans need some sort of escape from whatever irks them — drudgery, boredom, failure, penury, barking dogs, unpleasant companions — a mighty long list if you decide to think about it. Personal art-making, with its complex creative demands of audacity, application and focus, as well as its perceived nobility, fills the bill.

No human life is all joy, none is all pain. It may be necessary to have a bit of one to gain more of the other. Surely, all moods are worth exploring. While a good mood is way ahead of whatever comes next, this is where I tell you to joyfully jump into your bad moods, watch yourself, and see what happens.

Best regards,


PS: “Whereas positive moods seem to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world.” (Joseph Forgas)

Esoterica: Bad-mood guys like Beethoven are no shirkers when it comes to turning out the work. Whole schools of poetry, art and music have been founded on anger and misery. “Sunny dispositions” might be missing out on something. Bad moods are, on the other hand, bad moods. You don’t want to stay in them too long — maybe just enough to be focused, attentive and a little extra critical. A bad mood could be good for you.


Digging deeply
by Shirley Peters, Putney, NSW, Australia


“The Next Episode”
original painting
by Shirley Peters

I used to play doubles tennis on Tuesdays with a local ladies competition. We had a saying: “Beware the injured player.” If a player was in pain and hurting, i.e. with a freshly sprained ankle, they would concentrate on their game. They watched the ball, hitting low and hard. They anticipated the ball movement more accurately, so as to reduce their own movement on the court. Inevitably they would win. We healthy players could not “dig as deep.” This must be the same principal as your bad mood producing good works idea. You are more focused, less distracted. Able to dig deep.



Exorcism and ambush
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA


“Frog he went a-courting”
oil painting, 36 x 48 inches
by Warren Criswell

In my case I notice two different aspects of this. Sometimes when my life is totally in the toilet I’ll get an image — and it will be an image of my despair. Painting this image seems to work as an exorcism. It may be as you say, “When all else fails one can still paint.” Sometimes being an artist is the only thing that seems to justify one’s existence. At other times when I’m depressed, I’ll be ambushed by something that catches my eye, usually something I’ve seen a thousand times before but never until that moment as a painting. These images have nothing to do with my despair. It’s as if the Muse (even though I know rationally that she is a part of me) is living a completely separate life from mine and has no interest whatsoever in my petty miseries. “Paint this!” she says. And I do.

There is 1 comment for Exorcism and ambush by Warren Criswell

From: Liz Reday — Nov 11, 2009

Another breathtakingly spectacular painting! I’m so impressed by the way you make such a contemporary statement using classic figurative means (sort of). If this is the product of despair, bring it on!


Art as play
by Ernst Lurker, East Hampton, NY, USA


motorized light sculpture
by Ernst Lurker

We escape through play, and the way I see it, painting is a form of play. Not only painting, but all of culture, according to Johan Huizinga, the Dutch historian (Homo Ludens 1935). The play mode liberates us from the treadmill of the survival instinct, and its opposite, the play instinct, is the source of creativity and art. Huizinga provided the foundation of the PlayArt philosophy. PlayArt is my own and many other artist’s interactive art form that requires active participation of the viewer, the touching and manipulation of the artwork.

(RG note) Thanks, Ernst. The PlayArt site can be found here.


Everything dissolves
by Petra Voegtle, Denmark


“Rainbow over Wailua”
original painting
by Petra Voegtle

I have clearly made my best work when I was deep in pain. Art always has been some kind of escape or valve although I’d rather paint in a cheerful mood the deep pain has made me a “better” artist. When I was very young still I wrote poems and short essays when I was deeply hurt. The words then came easily and effortlessly as if something strange had taken over. After the work I have always felt and still feel some kind of relief.

The mystery though is that I often cannot remember any more why I have been in such deep pain, sometimes even physically. This applies specifically to a work on silk, called the 7th Sign. I can remember that I was in deep desperation while I was painting that silk scroll but I cannot remember any more why I felt this way. It always seems that somehow everything dissolves when brought to paper or canvas, as if the origin of the pain disappears when realized through a piece of work.


What shuts off in the brain?
by Anne M. Huskey-Lockard


mixed media
by Anne M. Huskey-Lockard

I had to comment on this letter, as my husband and I both realized (we discussed this exact thing the other evening) that when we are mad or in foul humor, we get much more work done of better quality, and as you wrote, I have found I can zero in on what I need to do and fix it without feeling bad about it. ‘Happy-time’ produces nominal work; down and dirty, grumpy or totally furious, I can produce good work like a demon.

Is it the extra adrenalin? Is there something that shuts off in the brain — blocking out distraction? Is the inner critic shut up when the brain is focusing on some outside source of displeasure? What precisely causes this to happen?

I totally agree with you; now come make me good and mad because I have a deadline looming and need some mad-working-time to get it done!


Running away
by Debi Bradford, Huntsville, AL, USA


by Debi Bradford

Photography is my art. I have found that when I’m frantic with computer work, overwhelmed by family situations, and required time out in the field has been minimal at best – I need to run away. And I do. Usually mad or miffed or out-of-sorts, I’ll throw the camera (gently) into passenger seat, drive blindly down the road with music blaring, seeking something. If I think of it I’ll take a road not taken before just to see something that’s not normally in my world of thinking. My best work has been in that state of mind, in a new spot. Something happens deep inside, sort of like “ah, I remember this joy” kind of feeling. My shots are fresher, I shoot until the tension fades, then I go back home. Downloading the images I’m usually delighted with the results, much more so than the usual ho-hum.


All emotions should fuel art
by Judith Veinot, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Sous La Mer”
mixed media
by Judith Veinot

I have always done my best fibre art works when I have been under the influence of negative emotions. I find these feelings fuel the creative fire. When I am happy and content with life, creativity comes more slowly and the work becomes a prettier reflection of my vision. The colours and textures used while angry tend to be darker, more vivid or bold. My artwork seems to aid in the diffusion of negative emotions, being extremely therapeutic. Of course, if the cause of the negativity is close and constant, too much of a bad thing can stop me in my tracks and make it impossible for me to work at all unless I distance myself somewhat.

Many successful comedians are actually not funny when not on stage. They use the angst of life to fuel their wit, as if making jokes about it helps to relieve the pressure. During a particularly difficult part of life, I would make companions laugh hysterically with my redirected anger turned jokes about family members and coworkers. Once life became peaceful again, the dynamics of the group changed as I no longer felt the need to disperse any negativity and they asked what had happened to my ability to make them laugh. I can still make people laugh, I just use different fuel, but I also have different companions now.

I firmly believe all emotions, good or bad, should be used to fuel our art, all in balance. It keeps our work from getting stale and improves personal growth.


The necessity of bad moods
by Jacqueline Colozzi

I found it quite amusing that you addressed the fact some people might consider you crazy for linking bad moods with incredible art — I think that the art heaps of history do much to support that theory, and anyone who tries to argue the opposite is truly the insane one. In fact, it could probably be proven that of the so-called “masters” of art, the majority of them were plagued by negative feelings at least during part of their lifetime (and same goes for all other creatives). Sadness, anger, despair and melancholy are amongst the most powerful emotions, and all are heady inspiration to our expression. The very process of creation can be more than just an escape, even the opposite. It can be a full-fledged immersion in our sentiments, allowing us to explore them, to capture them in a more tactile form. And so for some, our art can be our therapy — I know of many artists, musicians, actors and writers who perform in this manner. It is certainly important to heed your advice and take note that they are “bad moods” — it is not advisable to welcome and promote such feelings for the sole sake of inspiration. But honest feelings dealt honestly (i.e. expressed in art, for the artist) is the most honorable way to handle such negativity, I think. And why we gravitate and herald such artists — beyond an agreed-upon quality of their work, perhaps many of us are also drawn to the emotions we sense their art emits. It soothes our souls to find another in pain, to know we are not alone in our darkest hours. And we ought to take their cue, and come to terms with emotions we may have been squashing in a denying, unhealthy manner. Perhaps with that very knowledge and purpose in mind it can be even easier to conquer our daemons, something many artists are not able to do.


Pain in a relationship
by Ken Jackson, London, ON, Canada

In The Art Spirit, Robert Henri talks about how your mood and who you are at the moment of each brush stroke, translates something into the paint or paper for all time to have an opportunity to see.

I was having an on again — off again relationship. Images of a weekend away resurfaced in a drawing of this lady in an interior. I was annoyed at her but really liked what was happening on paper. I was working late and got into the homemade wine and my feeling got more pronounced in my drawing as the early morning hours approached. The next day I saw my enthusiastic attempts and corrected some of the more obvious strokes and finished the drawing. It was framed and presented to the world. Almost all that saw it liked it and I thought it was one of my best drawings to date. About a year later at a major art event my drawing was on display and a lot of people remarked in the positive. On the last day of the show, I noticed a lady standing in front of the drawing looking for the longest time, but I was busy with customers, and then she was gone. This happened 3 more times. On the fourth time back I said to her, “You have been back four times, you must like this drawing” and she responded, “No I don’t, there is so much pain in it,” then she walked away. I was left speechless and went for a walk.

That was the first time I had confirmation of the truth of Robert Henri‘s words. In my almost 30 years of full time painting, I am now convinced that there is more in the making of art then the transfer of pencil lead or paint to a surface and it has to do with the spirit or energy of human beings. It has to do with the focus of energy mixed with intense passion. That energy translates our state into the focus of our intentions, to all observers, for them to translate in their own way.


Surmounting the rock wall
by Ron Stacy, Victoria, BC, Canada


“Beach block”
original painting
by Ron Stacy

I often feel like I’m on a plain with a rock wall right in front of me which represents what I’m incapable of, so I work hard to overcome that wall. All of a sudden I’ll realize that I’m on top of that particular rock wall, but there’s another right in front of me again, but a bit smaller. My goal is to keep working at these recurring rock walls until they’re so small that I can just step up on them. Then I’ll be able to use all my faculties to express my vision using all my skills without compromise. Mind you, I’ll probably be 145 years old by then, so I might be a bit feeble.

I admire my Mother, who, when she was a young girl taking accordion lessons, was told by her music instructor that she would never be able to play a particular complicated piece because she didn’t have the necessary talent. She worked on that piece until her demise. She never got it, but she was determined to overcome her lack of talent with hard work. Me too.


Storming off for real winners
by Suzanne Ecclestone, Shelburne, ON, Canada

My daughter Kelly was an avid little figure skater. Always before a competition or test we would get into arguments over her hair or her skating dress, or that her skates were hurting her. There was always something, and the more upset she got, the better she skated!

Later, I ran painting workshops where I invited numerous art teachers to give a course of their choice. Over 15 years, we had many different students, some placid and some very anxious. Frequently I noticed the students who got most upset would storm off into the countryside and come back with real winners. It reminded me of my daughter’s behaviour years before. I guess a good shot of adrenaline helps to get the juices flowing!




Painting inspired by the Hubble Space Pictures

original painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Joan Marie


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Ken Toffaletto of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I remember my wife saying that I no longer did much painting… and I replied that she made me too happy. That there were fewer demons to come out on my canvases so my paintings no longer had bite and definition.”

And also Gail Allen of NH, USA, who wrote, “Rilke said, ‘Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms….Live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’ ”

And also Mark Rue of San Antonio, TX, USA, who wrote, “I have a normally cheery disposition. In fact on several occasions friends have told me to “cheer down.” But there’s something to be said for getting in touch with your “dark side.” Some of my most powerful work was done was I was in a bad mood. The energy is different.”

And also Carl Nelson of Carnation, WA, USA, who wrote, “I’ve found that if I write when very depressed… while it seems awful that day, the next day it often is the best thing I’ve done in a long time: more grounded, more real, more present.”

And also John Deckert of CA, USA, who wrote, Please note the recent article in Scientific American: Depression’s Evolutionary Roots. Two scientists suggest that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages. By Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson, Jr.

And also Barbara Keir of Edmonton, AB, Canada, who wrote, “Your comment about joy and darkness in every human life reminded me of a passage from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence :

Man was made for joy and woe

and when this we rightly know

through the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine

A clothing for the soul divine.

Under every grief and pine

Runs a joy with silken twine.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Good news for bad moods



From: Elihu Edelson — Nov 05, 2009

I was thinking of Beethoven before finishing your piece. Van Gogh couldn’t have been in a very good mood when he hacked off a hunk of his ear. Think of his (presumably) last painting, “Crows Over a Wheatfield.”

From: Dave C — Nov 05, 2009

If our best work comes when there are dark clouds hanging over our lives, then my masterpiece is due any day now. ;)

From: Darla — Nov 06, 2009

Your experience is just the opposite of mine. I find it almost impossible to work when the world looks and feels hopeless. And when I do work when I’m in that horrible mood, it’s like trying to knit with boxing gloves on and the work comes out stiff, boring and lifeless. When I’m in a good mood, I get better ideas and can concentrate better on painting them. Which is probably why I don’t get enough painting done. I use my bad mood time for routine, mundane chores.

From: Wendie Thompson — Nov 06, 2009

Here is what I have noticed: When I am in a “good” mood I have an easier time painting representational art. When I am in a “bad” mood I have done some of my best abstract work striving to put feeling on canvas. My moniker: “I both pray and scream in oil.”

From: Laura Smyth — Nov 06, 2009

I’ve noticed that I get “cranky” when I’m getting close to working on a new poem. As a writer, ideas are always there just under the surface and it sometimes seems as if the “busy-ness” of every day life has to be pushed off roughly before I can settle down to create something new with words.

From: Dave Market — Nov 06, 2009

I have noticed a roller coaster pattern as the better frames of mind can produce a lethargy for me. Like an agitator ball in a paint can, The turbulence of trial tends to “stir up” the process, often yielding good result, which can lead to another happy time.

From: Donna — Nov 06, 2009

I have time and again produced better work when I approached it when I was mad about something.

From: Nancy McGrath — Nov 06, 2009

I have to tell you a funny story. I was suffering from a horrible toothache but I had to do some illustrations for a community gardening letter that I had promised to do and the deadline was coming up. I probably did some of my finest work. My brother (who is also an artist) saw them and after much teasing said, “Maybe we could rig up a chair for you that would give you intermittant electrical shocks to keep you concentrating!” He might have had a good idea!

From: Ellen Wong — Nov 06, 2009

I remember two distinct times when anger directed my focus. Once my mad energy was channeled into pitching great fast balls. Closest I ever got to playing like an athlete. Later in college, I was spitting mad at my roommate and wrote a very long but clear explanatory letter that would have made my English teachers proud.

I don’t get to these levels of anger anymore. Maybe I’ve learned to vent or sublimate my feelings. But when my feelings are running high, I’ve learned that’s when I can express myself best. If I wait, focus and energy dissipate and my impetus to act effectively is lost.

From: Shirley — Nov 06, 2009

It is not so much a “bad mood” or “anger” that affects how I work, but being bored or restless is my downfall. I cannot seem to settle down to anything as mundane as housework, charity work or any form of outside work, until after I have been in to my studio. Then the restlessness seems to disapear and I easily lose myself in the painting project at hand or create something really spectacular (in my less than humble estimation). This seems to release the restlessness and boredom. Then I can attack the outside projects with calmness and eagerness (except the housework ~ that is still boring and mundane!).

From: Cindy Lee Jones — Nov 06, 2009

The opposite holds true for me, except when I am grieving. The creative process has helped me through sorrow and the distress of losing loved ones, but just a bad mood has always been very counter productive for me other than getting the laundry done. I lose my focus in the negative.

From: Mary M Hart — Nov 07, 2009

In the context of the definition of “bad mood” not being depression or grief; perhaps those bad moods are the most revealing about our present “being”, what is affecting us and how we choose to creatively respond to it.

As artists, we know that everything and anything can stimulate our focus and creativity. It is entirely up to every individual (again not speaking of diagnosed depression, etc.), as to what they do with every mood.

How we respond to any situation in life is how we walk our path and get where we are going right? It isn’t the mood that dictates our step or direction, it is our response. So, if we are awake to what our moods are, and intentionally choose to use the mood creatively, we win!

Being aware that the bad mood is something transitional, not who we really are, makes it an excellent interim, insightful tool to use for new focus, new creative impulses. Of course when consciously observed, our bad mood can also enlighten us in the present about what might be effecting us inwardly and changing our mood from good to bad. But that is another story.

From: Madge — Nov 07, 2009

Years ago I began meditating for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to stop my inner-persona from running at the mouth. Gaining some control of and insight into discursive thinking has both improved my general mood and my painting. I’m thinking that painting while in a bad mood can be successful because the work isn’t being over-thought. There is some degree of that auto-pilot effect that people often call “the zone.” However, having more control over discursive thought can have similar results. It’s a little like the old saying “…rich is better.” You can paint in a good mood, and paint in a bad mood. I’ve tried both and good is definitely better.

From: Annette R. Hall — Nov 07, 2009

I agree! When I’m in a bad or irritated, or even very happy, mood, I seem to be able to get more done. I’m more focused and resolute and have more energy. When I’m mellow, relaxed, and in a generally content mood, I tend to want to do less. I’m happy with the status quo. After reading your email, I wondered if these different feelings might have to do with the effects of adrenaline on the body, so I looked up. What I found on seems to support my theory:

“The so-called ‘fight or flight’ hormone secreted by the inner part of the adrenal gland. It prepares the body for action by its stimulatory effects on muscles, circulation, and carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Adrenaline increases heart rate, the depth and rate of breathing, and metabolic rate. It also improves the force of muscular contractions and delays the onset of fatigue. Its actions oppose those of insulin. Adrenaline accelerates fat mobilization and encourages the conversion of glycogen to glucose.”

From: David Earle — Nov 07, 2009

I’ve received your letters for a little while now and have found them to be insightful and enjoyable. Thank you. I thought Id share a little something I’ve noticed in relation to the bad mood production attitude idea. Though I don’t paint as many of your readers probably do, I still am a victim/benefactor of the creative side of the brain. To point…when I find that others have adversely affected my mood to the point of driving me to, or affecting my time to create. I often create in a way, and there for turn out pieces that have less care in them! That’s not to say they are less of a piece. More to the point, I am not as sensitive to every nuance of creating being just right. It almost in a sense frees me a bit, gives me a “it is what it is” attitude. And there for that piece winds up speaking differently to different people.

From: Yvonne Rossetti — Nov 07, 2009

Yes. True. Bad moods can be a vehicle for deep process, resulting in perhaps prolific product.

Yet, I’ve noticed that it varies depending on the situation that proceeds the shift in mood.

My work, generally is catapulted by personal rejection, trauma, anxiety …

When I’m subconsciously reeling from negative experience, I seem to have a deep connection to “the muse”.

I’m able to slow my internal dialogue, delve, process and paint.

Might I call this “bipolar rebounding” ?

This is quite different then my “zoning out” while in a bad mood.

From: Jeff Tschida — Nov 07, 2009

I think part of the answer might lie in the mood itself. Bad moods generally indicate anger of some sort, and anger brings energy, energy we can use productively.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Nov 07, 2009

I’m in a bad mood right now and wish my easel was set up and ready to go.

i had depression back in the 80’s, and just after it crested, about 1990, i decided to be an artist. i had a lot of time to myself and was very reflective and inward at the time. i’m a self-taught artist so some of it wasn’t very good but some came out great and i’ve been trying to get that back ever since.

but part of the urge to focus on my art came from being bored with myself! all that down thinking became pretty boring and left me feeling vacuous so i filled me up with my art. (and other people’s art) when i’m busier now and doing something else that i enjoy, i don’t do art so much.

but i disagree that sadness generates any art. at points of great sadness, whether induced by events or chemical imbalances, i had little interest in even writing, which i did prolifically. a BAD mood does not mean sadness but can come from many places, some of which need to be expressed, some just need to be escaped.

From: eff Allen — Nov 07, 2009

Usually when I am frustrated or down I tend to paint a little better. I noticed this a long time ago. I didn’t think anybody else worked that way.

From: Stephanie Birdsall — Nov 07, 2009

It’s also true for working when tired. I find that some of my strongest focus is when I am just tired but not sleepy.

It takes more effort to focus and just paint. So I think my focus is just that much more intense.”

Thanks for the insight,

From: Phyllis Rutigliano — Nov 07, 2009

I have created some good pieces of work on some pretty bad mood days. Why? I think when I feel great, optimistic, etc. I have high hopes and anticipate great stuff from the work at hand. When I’m down, I have zero expectations and can look at my work more clearly almost as if it is someone else’s work. Bad times make me more reckless so I’m apt to make courageous moves where I don’t give a care; the work is not so precious and I take more chances.

From: Janet M. Trahan-Krotz — Nov 07, 2009

I know for me, stress and pressure to meet a deadline do it for me. My creativity, focus and accomplishment is much higher than on a normal quiet day.

From: Janice Robinson-Delaney — Nov 07, 2009

Well thanks at least you didn’t take us through that therapeutic arc that is so familiar in dialogue in relations to bad moods. I’d say it’s safe to say that any mood has it’s artistic niche.

From: Ingeborg Raymer — Nov 07, 2009

Your letter on the value / advantage of bad moods hit the nail. I discovered years ago that– when I looked at my work done in a sad or bad mood — it was far more expressive and full of feeling, some of them (figurative) rather sad. But it added a new dimension.

Thank you for all your wisdom expressed in your informative letters.

From: Bonnie Holmes — Nov 07, 2009

Having read your letters over the past many years – enjoying them greatly – today’s subject and the way you related it to yourself really hit a chord with me. I paint landscapes for the most part and find endless inspiration outdoors. “Procrastination” has not really been a problem for me, and I am grateful for that. Also, my family would describe “happy” as my default setting. What has really caused me confusion are those times that something has REALLY upset me, or I’m feeling pangs of major pressure/stress, or possibly just not physically feeling up-to-snuff (tiredness?) – these are the feelings that would make me procrastinate thinking that I “should” only paint when my mood is positive. When I have pushed myself to get in front of my easel in those “bad” moods, I have found my painting not to be “less”, but many times “more”!

It sounds like the research you have presented us with explains this – and this I see as empowerment!! I like doing thumbnail sketches for my paintings and I keep my sketchbook as almost a diary. I think now, recording moods could prove valuable.

Thank you for the gift of your writings.

From: Ruth Rodgers — Nov 07, 2009

My bad moods are creative when I haul out paintings that aren’t working–in my sour mood, I rip into them, slashing away and taking risks I wouldn’t otherwise take–and many of these turn out to be just what the painting needed! It’s a kind of “what the heck” attitude that turns off my usual constraints and sometimes generates surprising wins.

From: Nikki Coulombe — Nov 07, 2009

Artists are lucky because we thrive on finding solutions to the problems we create. Negativity, like every other emotion only needs expression. Emotions are not so black and white. Why do we expect that they are? There are only negative and positive extremes because historically, expressing them has been shameful. Socially speaking, all our problems stem from running away from the acknowledgement and expression of our emotions. It’s imperative to start appreciating them in a different light; expression is the only way forward. I see creativity as being neutral territory: any mood, behavior and method is acceptable, and anything is possible.

From: Maureen O’Keefe West — Nov 07, 2009

I do my best work when I am crabby or generally not in a good mood! I thought I was the only freaky one who was like that – glad to know there is a least one more – you!!

From: Gabriele from Colorado Springs, Colorado — Nov 07, 2009

I find when I’m in a bad mood, worried, sad or just negative about everything and I sit down to paint, very often I do not remember after I’m done what all the fuss was about. Everything negative seems to be channelled away through the right-bright mode and blown away. It doesn’t last for weeks, but if it eliminates the bad moods for just that day, I’m happy. Most of the time, I’m happy with my work as well.

From: Sally Bullers — Nov 07, 2009

It was really strange to read your letter. I have definitely noticed that I do good work when I am in a bad mood. Maybe its the concentration of getting my mind off everything else and being immersed in something I love. I don’t know if it lifts my mood but when I look at pieces I have done when feeling down they are some of my best. Can’t believe this is an actual phenomenon.

From: Barb Schmidt — Nov 07, 2009

While going through a very painful divorce, on my first holiday totally alone , I did some of my best painting up to that date. It helped me to turn my attention to that and it was the largest peice I have ever done. To this day, when people see it they are always very intrigued with it and I think that the emotional state I was in is reflected in that work.Its a moody work but in muted bright colors….It was not planned out in anyway, I just started painting. It is a real effort to drag your self to the easel and paints when you are in such a turmoil but it not only shows in your work but improves your emotional state as well, in my experience. I have used this to my advantage since then when the “mood” strikes.

From: Dee Barrett — Nov 07, 2009

So, there is usage for down moods,and/or anger. I have noted this heightened sensitivity when writing or completeting other intellectual tasks. Perhaps,some of my pleasure associated with artistic endeavor is the release of pent-up emotion?

Testing this hypothesis should result in many more pieces. Thanks for the insight, as I had unconsciously been trying to wait for the elusive creative mood.

From: Carol Measures Scott — Nov 07, 2009

Very interesting subject. As I read your letter, I immediately thought of a number of my stronger pieces that were made during my darkest times. Guess I wasn’t thinking of those times so much as bad mood times as they were very difficult times.

Maybe this is why art is being explored as therapy by so many?

From: Rich Mason — Nov 07, 2009

Living with almost constant back and hip pain and two constantly barking dogs next door my mood is usually one similar to an awakening bear in the spring. I noticed that when I paint in pain I do concentrate more on what I’m doing and seem to do better work. When I feel good I paint but find I don’t do as well. Something to be said for bad moods.

From: Jean Baptiste Moliere — Nov 07, 2009

Robert, with your brain you should write a letter on “Art and Abstinence.” Consult me first.

From: Taylor Ikin — Nov 08, 2009

I am generally a very happy person and as a committed painter, I have to hold the brush whether I feel like I or not. I totally agree with you. Dark days can produce the most successful work. For me, it is harder to get going on a not so good day, takes more thought and effort… and when I get going it evolves into a great escape…and the escape takes me to places I seek for enjoyment… producing results, more often than not, that have a higher level of community and success. Maybe, as I am painting through fog, I create light…and that is when I find a rainbow!

From: Kathy Kvach — Nov 08, 2009

You ask if anyone agreed with you that mad/sad moods spark something within the ignites creativity. It certainly seems true to me, and I have always thought that happens because it diminishes or weakens that concentration level that can make a person too narrowly focused, too intent on the self-imposed rules of painting. Your emotions are open and perhaps fragile–maybe that’s an excellent combination for creativity.

From: Rachel Bushnell — Nov 08, 2009

I have depression to deal with in my life. I use medication to help, prayer, trying to find out the source of the current bad mood. Usually painting is the last thing I want to do. I wait for sunny, clear, breezy days to be “inspired”. November is not a pretty month – it’s my birthday month.

So now I will try to go in and maybe paint the moody greys. I am especially fascinated with the sky – the million ways the clouds move and the sun shines through and around and below. But steel-heavy-grey has never turned me on.

From: Glenna Sobol — Nov 08, 2009

This sort of affirms some thoughts I have been having. I have been in such pain and not really organizing myself to paint because sitting of any length of time is so bad. I have been notified that I will have spine surgery on December 3, 2009 and I find that my mood is upbeat because they have finally found the problem, which other doctors have not done. I do appreciate all that you send me and I want to know what you have in the way of cds that direct a new comer such as my self, true age is 77 years though. Thank you for being a bolster to a person such as myself.

From: Sally Trace — Nov 08, 2009

Yes yes yes, I have experienced this. In school, way before I knew that I was destined to become an abstract expressionist, one of my teachers gave us a painting assignment that I thought was really stupid. So I figured, Well I’m just going to bash out something awful, and who cares? It’s a stupid assignment. So I took my anger to the canvas and guess what? It was my best piece all year. So I learned the power of emotion in painting. This year, a particularly nasty-for-no-reason fellow facebook artist accused me of being a no-talent, and told me to “go paint another disaster”. After the initial shock and de-friending exercise, I found the humor in it, along with the power of emotion. Now when I find myself coming up short on inspiration, I just tell my self to go paint another disaster. It brings a smile and gives me freedom and energy. Who would have thought?

From: Ton Disano — Nov 08, 2009

I’ve enjoyed your letters during my most recent bad mood of fourteen months. While going through a high conflict divorce and caring for a mentally ill child, I have, IMHO, created my best and most satisfying work. Thank you for sharing your observations and research.

From: Judith Veinot, — Nov 08, 2009

Many successful comedians are actually not funny when not on stage. They use the angst of life to fuel their wit, as if making jokes about it helps to relieve the pressure. During a particularly difficult part of life, I would make companions laugh hysterically with my redirected anger turned jokes about family members and coworkers. Once life became peaceful again, the dynamics of the group changed as I no longer felt the need to dispurse any negativity and they asked what had happened to my ability to make them laugh. I can still make people laugh, I just use different fuel, but I also have different companions now.

I firmly believe all emotions, good or bad, should be used to fuel our art, all in balance. It keeps our work from getting stale and improves personal growth.

From: Renee’ Askew — Nov 08, 2009
From: Yvonne Moyer — Nov 08, 2009

Most of our most famous artists had a dark side..more than a mood. It was then that they did their best work. And yes, the art therapists have figured out that art is indeed mood enhancing uplifting people to a better level.

Recently, a friend with MS was finding herself alone for 2 weeks of treatment in a strange city and crying constantly. With advice of an artistic daughter she bought markers, and pastels and papers and now speaks with excitement over the art she is accomplishing in her free hours.

As artists we want our art to be more than therapy, of course but..yes..use the down times, the angry times and the lonesome times. You are onto something.

From: Tricia Earle — Nov 08, 2009

This is a good article. I re-entered art as an adult while recovering from active alcoholism. I am many years sober now and still doing my art. Please see results by going to

From: Jo VanderWoude — Nov 08, 2009

I love how your letters provoke thought. When I am in not-the-best mood, I love to paint because the process lifts me to a much better state-of-mind, occasionally euphoric. That lovely right brain thing kicks in and all of a sudden it’s three hours later and I’m feeling great! The quality of my work seems to be equal with that created when I start out in a “good mood”. Having said that, If I become frustrated and hence fall into a funk with how a painting is progressing, I agree completely, the bad mood facilitates my focus and problem solving abilities.

From: Randolph Steele — Nov 08, 2009

I think the phenomenon has something to do with guilt. I think when we have done something wrong, or stupid, or out of place, we need a period of time to regroup and heal. Focusing on work helps heal.

From: Wendy Hale — Nov 08, 2009

I definitely paint more when I’m not in a good mood. I think when I’m happy, I flitter around too busy to settle down at the easel. When sour, I tend to play the piano, write and paint. I figure it’s how I try to work out what’s bothering me. When my mother died I played the piano to resolve my sorrow, then settled back to my easel. It really helped.

Music and painting are my a perfect duo, while the paint dries I play, or when I need to get away from a piece I play, otherwise I would over work my paintings. The music seems to balance and help me work out the visual.

From: Anne Hudec — Nov 08, 2009

While some artists might do their most focused painting while in a negative mood, I count myself lucky to be one of those artists who paints for the sheer joy in my life. It seems that those who are attracted to my work recognize and relate to that energy, which makes me wonder – who are you attracting when you paint in a foul mood?

From: Randi Lockhart — Nov 09, 2009

When I was living with my boyfriend my stress levels were very high and I didn’t like the condition of the house. I would block everything out by painting like a mad woman every day until I couldn’t paint anymore. Now that I have moved out and living on my own I paint when I feel like it and enjoy painting more.

From: Stephanie J. Witte — Nov 09, 2009

I love reading and ‘chewing’ on your letters each week…they remind me of what I’ve forgotten about art and myself.

This particular letter seemed absolutely on point for me. Most of the time this is the state ( darker, less happy) in which I work. I’m a mixed media sculptor, former illustrator. The times when I’ve been most positive were the times when I created the most wonderful, timeless works…or so I thought on these sunny, perfect days. Seen from a less positive standpoint they were in fact banal and vanilla. The edgier days are when my pieces sing and speak to others than myself.

From: Ed Hughes — Nov 09, 2009

Bad moods are healed by the process of creation. I think the right brain gets a chance to shut-up the aching left brain, and all parts and the whole are grateful for that.

From: Jane McGovern — Nov 09, 2009

To begin with I believe there cannot be bad moods unless there are good moods – can’t have one without the other. I find when I avoid working on a painting either because I am inundated with the stuff of life or I’m afraid I will destroy what I’ve started, I force myself to “take the bull by the horns” and face my fears. Forced to concentrate, I find I am able to accomplish that of which I was afraid. A thought came to me once and I penciled it over my worktable, “Sometimes inspiration comes after perspiration starts.” Just dig in and ignore the pain of indecision I say to myself… it worked for me when I had my other business and it works now in the business of creating art.

From: Claudia Roulier — Nov 09, 2009

I have to agree with the outcome of good work and productivity while gnashing your teeth…..I find bad moods and negativity produce a whole lot of energy and working dissipates the energy while focusing your attention sharply on something other than what your gnashing over, not unlike a laser!!

From: Lina Jones, Australia — Nov 09, 2009

I found this one very interesting about putting our ‘bad’ moods to good use artistically. I’m afraid that when I’m out of sorts I tend to forget about my painting, etc. and do something else to cheer myself up, as I feel kind of stuck. I will remember your advice in future and try and direct that energy into something creative.

From: Carole Leslie — Nov 09, 2009

Several years ago I took a course called “Awakening Joy” and the brain research by Rick Hanson at a site called Wise Brain. He interestingly said:

“Unfortunately, the brain emphasizes negative experiences.

It’s the negative experiences that signal the greatest threats to survival. So our ancient ancestors that lived to pass on their genes paid a lot of attention to negative experiences. Consider 80 million years or so of mammal evolution, starting with little rodent-like creatures dodging dinosaurs to stay alive and have babies in a worldwide Jurassic Park. Constantly looking over their shoulders, alert to the slightest crackle of brush, quick to freeze or bolt or attack depending on the situation. Just like any rabbit or squirrel you may have seen in the wild today. The quick and the dead.”

From: Doris Raecke — Nov 09, 2009

What has moved me most to express myself has been indignation regarding injustice and violence. No wonder so many Latin American art is related to political issues, such as Guayasamín’s work or Botero’s series against the violence in Colombia. In Europe, Goya set an incredible example.

From: Patricia Peterson — Nov 09, 2009

While I concur wholeheartedly by extensive experience with Prof. Forgas’s research that critical attention to detail is at the forefront unless one collapses into a sorry heap of self-defeat in the face of discontent marching through one’s days and nights, I would state creativity and art is a sanctuary and a safe haven from life’s inevitable disappointments. There is no gray area.

Disciplined work attests to this because the sole purpose of anger is to urge oneself to do something about it. Lingering anger morphs into depression, despondency and by the time one bottom’s out in despair you have nothing to loose any which way you go, except escapism. Yes, one must take action to move out of a bad mood (for your own sanity not to mention concern for others) and the idea is while we may not elude it, to minimize the duration and frequency of it allowing more time for the other categories of emotional response which in and of themselves are worthwhile. That being said, one is touched by gratitude, significant appreciation of the good and light moments and a foot to the floor on the gas pedal to escape from the hell of one’s making (self-indulgence of misery).

As Kierkegaard put it, “The door to happiness opens outward.” Each work of art opens a door for the artist to create specific contact points with viewers beyond the visible contents to the window of their soul, belly to belly. Its an intimacy one does not merely happen upon over the course of years as a passenger of life.

From: Jack Dickerson — Nov 09, 2009

At first I found this phenomenon rather odd. I used to be quite scared I could not paint at all if I were upset, or feeling a down. But what I have learned, like you, there is something inside that stirs up a bunch of unexpected ideas, focus and abilities. Perhaps it is similar to when we get nervous or anxious about going into an unfamiliar surrounding. This is one of the many unexpected paradoxes of how our emotions affect our creativity.

From: Joseph Jahn — Nov 09, 2009

Rage is my friend

Heavy Metal is my tool

I’ve used rage all my painting career, rage against the machine has been an inspiring theme in most of my work………sometimes it shows.

From: Deborah Last, Buckingham, UK — Nov 09, 2009

Working in a negative mood or even anger is definitely a gold mine for me as I feel focused and determined and often feel that it is through my art that I can truly say what I feel. I recently produced a series of work after not getting my work into a publication that I’d hoped to be in. This came after a number of things had not gone according to my plans and was a bit of a last straw! It was not that the work failed to meet the mark but that a friend had let me down! I worked furiously on some charcoals that expressed how stupid this had made me feel. they are some of my most interesting drawings and started a whole series of work.

From: Clifford Flanders — Nov 09, 2009

I’m not an artist, but a comedy writer. I find that the lousier my mood is, the funnier my material is. When I’m feeling great, my disposition sunny, out from my pen flows…the purest drivel. I was a member of a comedy troupe a few years back. We all wrote and performed our own stuff. In writers’ meetings, whenever my stuff had my colleagues rolling in the aisles, they would get the most concerned look on their faces and ask each other, “Anybody know what’s bothering Cliff?”–because they knew that my best and funniest material only arose out of my darkest, near-suicidal moods. Don’t know if this fits in with the phenomenon you’re describing, but it sort of rang a bell with me.

From: John Ferrie — Nov 09, 2009

Dear Robert,

It is always interesting to me not only what an artist paints but what brings them to the canvas.

We paint our hopes and our tears and we are trying to convey something in our works that will communicate who we are.

I know that I can have the worst day and yet go into my studio and great gold.

There is something about mixing a colour with a delicious squeeze of paint that is so satisfying. Maybe it is the gentle glide of our brush across the canvas that soothes us .

After a while the tangled knot of the days events do not seem so wretched and solutions seem closer than they did before. Like an athlete that releases endorphins when they exercise, there must be something in the brain that is released when we create. Like right now when I am broke and trying to paint 60-12″ canvases for an upcoming open studio tour later this month. The pieces are coming out better than I could have hoped.

Being a creative person, sometimes things do not always go our way, however nothing is the end of the world. The key is to continue to paint day after day.

John Ferrie

From: Karen R. Phinney — Nov 10, 2009

I love the playfulness of Bob Gregson’s art! What a wizard he is! And the stuff about making art when you are upset, angry or out of sorts…………….am sure it’s true. Have done it myself and found that you can lose yourself in the making, hence perhaps the more successful results. but I still like to create when I am happy which is most of the time!

From: Marilyn Kousoulas — Nov 10, 2009

What is Art? Creativity. This world is founded on creativity. Without it, we are nothing. It doesn’t matter if you are baking a cake, preparing a special meal, getting a new hair style, exploring the woodlands for the perfect photo, dancing to the rhythm of music, designing a new building or roadway, writing or producing a play/drama, writing a book, painting or sculpting something new…the list goes on and on. Life is Art. Art is creativity.

From: John Deckert — Nov 10, 2009

a recent article in Scientific American worth reading:

Depression’s Evolutionary Roots

Two scientists suggest that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages

By Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson, Jr.

You wrote:

Good news for bad moods

From: C Bangs — Nov 10, 2009

“Paradise Regained” re-greening the Earth using resources from space is a collaboration between two scientists and an artist. Les Johnson,manager of Advanced Concepts, NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, Greg Matloff, Assistant Prof. of Astronomy & Physics and C Bangs, merging art & science. The YouTube DVD is of the chapter frontispiece art of C Bangs and Greg Matloff’s summary of the chapters:

I continue to enjoy your newsletter!

C Bangs

From: ted openshaw — Nov 10, 2009

many times..i believe.. melancoly is conducive to creativity

From: Esther J. Williams — Nov 10, 2009

For many years I have known that when I am most depressed, I can also be most creative in art. Since being a little girl, I have had many experiences in growing up that kept me in turmoil on a daily basis. I was born into a large family with an alcoholic father. I wanted to have a better life, but I had to deal with things that other kids my age didn’t, so I tended to distance myself at times. I cried a lot because life wasn’t fair compared to the other kids on the street. Art was my savior. Now, it’s a trigger reaction whenever I feel down & out to go to the drawing board and sketch or write down my feelings. As soon as I mix the oils on the palette, or watch a form develop from pencil, all sadness dissolves and the joy of seeing new form or colors lifts my spirits again. I was in my world, it was a better vision than that other reality. I felt so much better. The best works are those can can reveal the feelings of the artist, the viewer can sense and see that a work was created with a passionate feeling. There is an ‘edge’ to it, it is not passive looking. On the other hand, feeling angry, wanting to vent has it’s advantages in driving an artist to become intensely focused in their crafting. I always believed in, “It’s the suspense that drives me.” There was always a looming deadline with crazy family drama or needs to add to the load of responsibilities. I still managed to get it done under the wire. I think artists are especially gifted with the ability to express oneself in a medium rather than pent up the negative feelings which will create further harm in oneself, both physically and mentally. I think along with many other creative types who can relate, we naturally feel disconcerted with life on many levels than most because we are a different sort of passionate soul, the world is a troubled place to live in, we want to make changes in the world. Artists take what’s within their most inner mind and spirit when troubled and search for answers, we think in abstract terms. We get mad at the world or sad when things are not going our way. Then we feel an impetus to work it out on the canvas, paper, sculpture, musical score, dance rhythm or poem. It is this psychological release that we seek which drives us to continue to problem solve using the artistic medium and it also helps our brain abstractly solve our indifference within. The bad mood is temporary thankfully, through art we can rise out of it by getting in touch with our deepest feelings and validate our unique sense of self. I can not say that every piece I created in angst was a great work of art, but it helped me move through the darkness, the mud in my exterior and interior world. I painted a better landscape or mindscape from within and materialized a solution. In the end, the art we created did it’s job in creating an improved outlook in the world. We are lucky people to be able to take a tool, a technique and a medium that enables us to create a visual art that shows the essence of our spirit, no matter what mood it took to develop that product. In the end, we accomplished, problem solved or just released some nasty emotions. I create in good moods most of the time now, but when I am frustrated, I know it’s opportunity knocking and something good and genius is about to erupt from within. There’s good in feeling madness or sadness, it’s a sign that we must change something from within. It’s aggressiveness, it’s the base or birth of all creativity. Aggressiveness is not being evil, it’s energy that comes from our sublayers to spark us to make changes in our life. Let’s just not let it turn to hatred, let’s create beautiful art instead.

From: mars — Nov 10, 2009

What is art??? A creative train of thought!!!! do some of my best work– when in a sad or down mood– it frees up the mind –from making mistakes–it’s not –uptight!!

From: tatjana — Nov 10, 2009

I found that unfortenately, being in a bad mood because of a painting going bad – doesn’t help painting at all.

From: Christa — Nov 16, 2009

Looks like almost 100% concensus! I think that any time our emotions are charged or our passion is engaged we create our art expressing ourselves with a lot more clarity. I used to be involved in activism, where there is precious little an individual or groups can do to effect positive change against corrupt and powerful entities. My feelings of despair, frustration, disempowerment (and also euphoria, love and joy at other times) have been instrumental in sharpening the message I’m delivering in my art. I sculpt stone, mostly by hand, so the physical effort of chiselling that material into meaningful form is healing. (hours spent smashing on a rock can tire you out). I find in those highly emotive states I work more from a sub-conscious place and don’t get in the way of myself by over-thinking the piece. The work I have created in the lowest depths of despair with tears free-flowing down my face as rock chips flew in all directions was the work that resonated most with my audience – and sold – all of them. Perhaps those artists we revere are those who have bared their pain or joy – were brave enough to share it. Often times those same artists when asked after the fact how they wrote that brilliant song; painted that painting that impacts with an almost physical blow; or sculpted that piece that embodies political angst, they often say they don’t know – that it was inspired or came from a deeper place. My preference in art is for that which makes me think, feel or dream. Even something as benign as a still life painted with passion whether in a positive or negative headspace can do that. Thanks for inspiring so much feedback.

From: Kelley MacDonald — Nov 23, 2009

Robert, I laughed out loud when I read this! I’m generally a happy – not silly happy, just happy – person, but when I’ve had a setback, or rejection, and I’m MAD about it, I love the work I do! I call it my “f”-it work. My ‘self-editor’ shuts off, and I take chances and go outside my usual boundaries because I’m so upset I DON’T CARE. I never really thought about why, but I’m glad to see I’m not alone! Whew!



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