Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Art and Madness

Art and madness, need they go hand in hand for greatness to exist?

Is this the question we should be asking? Is it in fact madness or is it just a vision from a different perspective?

Naturally, most people would say Vincent Van Gogh was nuts. I do not know that I would concur. I never met him. Certainly, he had behaviours that would have most of us institutionalized, even in today's society.

I often wonder if one must experience great pain in order to experience and visually articulate great beauty or bliss. Vincent, in his letters to his brother, Theo, expressed his many frustrations with society, the way of the world, and with the art community; nonetheless, he learned and progressed. As a painter, he learned to articulate volumes in the application of one stroke of ink or paint. Can a person be "crazy" yet able to capture the truth of so much through his work?

Perhaps I will offer that Vincent did everything right. He left us with a collection of some of the most wonderful paintings and drawings of the last half of the nineteenth century. If he were a different man in any regard, he would not have left us with this incomparable legacy.

If I were Vincent's friend, I would say, "Vincent, I'm concerned with your well-being. What would make you happy?" I wonder what his answer would be and if he did get what would have made him happy would his work have changed - would it have lost the singular thing that makes it great? I sure wish I knew. It does make me think of who I am and how my work is made and what forms of nature within and without me bring about my work.

Perhaps I could be a happier person, perhaps I could be more "normal" and perhaps I would not have created the works I feel have merit. I think we can only take our learned skills as artists, meld them with our natural talent and desire, and add the experience and genetics that make up who we are and then, create art. Work from who you are (your truth). Work from what you know. LEARN. I hope I will find success in this and I hope that any madness in me is just enough to render me brilliant.

Thank you, Vincent, for all you have taught me.

1 comment:

MH said...

Gillian, I'm replying to your post not to refute it in any way but to add another point of view.

The August 2005 issue of Discover p. 76 has a review of a book by Peter Kramer called Against Depression. Kramer is a psychiatrist who has written about Prozac and has been asked if it had been available in Van Gogh's time, what effect it might have had on his art? Kramer began to wonder if depression has some kind of romantic allure (usually for those who don't have it) because they think it enhances creativity. Kramer takes the stance that depression is a debilitating disease that we have the same obligation to treat as epilepsy or diabetes. He says over time neurons become damaged, the hippocampus shrinks and the risk of heart disease increases. Depression usually robs people of passion and emotion though it certainly gives them a different point of view. Kramer speculates that Van Gogh had a condition probably much more complex than depression because of his incredible episodes of energy and passion. Kramer draws a parallel with Gauguin and Netzshe who did great work while they suffered from syphilis. "If penicillin had been available then would we have withheld it to preserve their genius?"

This review is very interesting but we can't rewind history and see what Van Gogh would have been like on Prozac. The person he was has to be seen in the context of his time and circumstances.

I don't think it is necessary for everyone to feel great pain to create art. I'll use Ursula K. LeGuin as an example of someone who is one of the sanest people I've ever heard and yet she has created worlds. Carol Shields is another example.

I really like your last paragraph about creativity coming from the sum total of who we are and our experiences.

Thanks for a beautiful blog.