Breakdown or Breakthrough? A History of European Research into Drugs and Creativity

This literature review (1999) looks at European research with (psychedelics) drugs on creativity between 1940-1970. A disinhibiting effect of psychedelics (allowing creative breakthroughs) is proposed.


“Language barriers have largely prevented American scholars from learning about European studies concerning drugs and creativity. An art historian reports on several Swiss, English, French and German studies conducted from the 1940s to the 1970s, offering new data in a research area that has been banned since drugs like mescalin, psilocybin, and LSD became illegal. Different views of the operations of these drugs, revealed by such terms as “hallucinogens,” “psychotogenics,” and “psychedelics,” appear to have colored researchers’ aims to a large extent. The notions of drugs “dictating” or “liberating” the intoxicated artist are criticized by discussing the importance of set and setting. It is proposed that intentional drug use among artists expecting artistic breakthroughs while intoxicated, can be seen as a form of “gaucherie” or disinhibiting technique.”


Written from an art historian’s perspective.

Looks at reports by artists and research that was not published in English.

The author frames the use of (psychedelic) drugs as follows:

“Within the context of such disinhibiting practices, the use of drugs, I propose, belongs to a category for which the term gaucherie can be adopted. In art history, this term refers in particular to the practice of (right-handed) artists who try to work deliberately with their left hand. In more general terms, gaucherie means the intentional raising of technical barriers that force the artist to improvise and, hopefully, make him discover new and valuable methods of working.”

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Breakdown or Breakthrough? A History of European Research into Drugs and Creativity

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Published in
Journal of Creative Behavior
December 1, 1999
29 citations

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