Part 1: Are the stories of “crazy geniuses” accurate?
On the night of December 23, 1888, in Arles, France, Vincent Van Gogh was furious because that fellow painter and perhaps romantic partner Paul Gauguin was about to leave, so he took a mousse and cut off his left ear, not just part of it, but all of it. Van Gogh walked with his severed ear to a nearby brothel, and introduced it to a young prostitute named Gabriel Berlater. Soon the authorities arrested him and placed him in a mental hospital. The story of Van Gogh’s ear being mutilated is famous, and immortalized in “Selfie of Him with Ear Bandage and Smoking Pipe” (1889).
We associate Van Gogh with mental disorder and unbridled behavior, and project these traits onto his art. Did you draw Van Gogh His hallucinations Oh really? Likewise, did the eccentric and half-mad Beethoven make up sounds he couldn’t hear?
Perhaps simple anecdotes help us understand complex issues. But are these tales of “crazy geniuses” accurate? Or is it inflated because we like a good story? Is there a greater state of insanity andcreativity Among the creative geniuses, or does a few known troubled characters distort our outlook? As I suggested in my new book The Hidden Habits of Genius (Harper Colllins, 2020): It’s complicated!
Charles Dodgson said through Alice in his book Alice in Wonderland: “You are a crazy fool, you completely lost your mind, but I’ll tell you a secret, all the good are crazy.” The idea of a gentle separation between genius and madness dates back at least to ancient Greece. Aristotle linked the two when he said, “There is no great genius without a touch of madness.” To give the old metaphor a modern context, ponder the words of Robin Williams who precipitated madness Liu Bodi By suicide 2014: “You were given a little crazy, if you lose it it will be nothing.”
Are geniuses more likely to suffer from mental disorders than the general population? While researching my book over 15 years, I looked at the lives of nearly a hundred geniuses, from Alcott to Zola. At least a third of them – among them Michelangelo, Newton, Beethoven, Lincoln, Tesla, Cosama, Van Gogh, Wolf, Hemingway, Dickinson, Dickens, Churchill, Rolling, Plath, Picasso, Gon Nash, and Kane West – regularly show or exhibit some form of emotional distress. A third is a large proportion compared to 5 to 10% (a very rough estimate) among the general population. Geniuses usually have no imbalance, but they do tend to be.
Artists seem to be influenced more than scientists. Recent studies indicate that scientists have the lowest prevalence of mental illness (17.8% higher than the general population), perhaps attributing their relative balance to the fact that a structured step-by-step protocol often plays a role within well-defined lines of scientific research, not to mention the absolute precision involved. Quantitative thinking.
Nevertheless, the rate of mood swings increases considerably among composers, politicians, and artists, and the highest prevalence is among writers (46%) and poets (80%). People with diagnosable disorders may choose areas such as poetry and painting, areas that seem most appropriate for those with mental disorders. Affected people may sense that mental turmoil is the source of inspiration for creative production, as rapper Kane West famously said: “Great art comes from great pain.”
Let’s go back to Van Gogh. Doctors have put forward more than a hundred theories about the cause of Van Gogh’s unbalanced condition, among them Bipolar disorder And theSchizophrenia Neurosyphilis, absinthe-induced temporal epilepsy, subacute glaucoma, visual yellow, and Merner’s disease. There was also a strong hereditary element in the painter’s final fate. Of the four children born to Anna and Theodorus Van Gogh, two died in a mental institution (Theo and Wilhelmina), and two (Vincent and Cornelius) committed suicide.
In May 1889, Van Gogh took refuge in Saint-Rémy, France. During the following year, he produced some of his most favorite creations, including “Irises” as he saw her in the yard in Saint-Rémy, and “The Starry Night,” which he painted while looking out of the sanatorium window. Art historian Ninke Packer said of Van Gogh’s recent work, “Tree Roots,” which he completed after his release: “In one of those paintings you can feel Van Gogh’s mental state at times.”
Was Van Gogh’s “crazy” art the product of a tormented mental state as suggested above, or a very articulate theory? Many of the hallmarks of Van Gogh’s style – his shimmering imagery and choice of colors, and two-tone textures – were explained as an artistic theory in Brother Theo’s letters, long before Vincent’s mental disorder. Van Gogh was well aware of the line between reason and madness. And he knew when to be reasonable and when not to be. As he wrote to Theo in 1882: “As a patient, you are not free to work as you should, as you are not able to.”
Van Gogh sketched to stay on the “safe” side of the line. 1883 wrote: “Labor is the only remedy, and if it does not help, one collapses.” Switching between the safe haven of productive genius and the crippling madness, Van Gogh continued to paint until he was unable to. On the morning of July 27, 1890, he wandered into a field near the River El Ouz, and shot himself.
Perhaps the words of Robin Williams will once again give a modern context to Van Gogh and many “imbalanced” artists: “You will come to the edge and look, and sometimes you will step over it, and then you will return with hope.”
But the question remains: Does madness convey visual art, or is it consistent with it and independent of it? This is what I will cover in the second part.
– This topic is translated from a magazine Psychology Today American.
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