This post is written by Siddharth Mathur, Designated Partner at Lex Protector LLP, India
It is not uncommon for artists to suffer from depression. Finding your inner voice and expressing your raw emotions through a canvas can be an excruciating process. It can drain more than just physical energy out of a human body. One may then ask, why would someone do such terrible things to himself/herself? But this is where all the artistic madness lies. There is no objective answer to this question but the insatiable quest to discover their inner-self has driven artists to do inexplicable things to themselves. That being said, one might wonder what would have happened if the artists were sorted human beings like we think we guys are. This is exactly where the dichotomy lies.
Take for example, Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch artist who started painting at the age of 27, died at the age of 37 and left behind a legacy, which till date is profoundly derived by artists all over the world. Disgraced as “the artist who cut off his own ear”, Van Gogh wasn’t recognised for his work when he was alive. Fortunately, he left us with an array of letters he wrote to his brother Theo, which give us a chance to delve into his inner life and understand the trauma he had gone through. His artwork is a reminiscence of his relationship with his work and his mental illness. Every painting he made reflects myriad of emotions he went through. Van Gogh’s agony reflected in the Starry Night can bring tears to any stone hearted person – his anger, his illness, his love for his brother, his struggles with loneliness and the stories of his heartbreaks, everything so clearly and beautifully illustrated on a piece of canvas.
Before Vincent, there was Michelangelo who was blessed with a talent that Florentines take pride in even today. Though his story is no different from Vincent, but fortunately, he was actually recognised for his work and was even considered a “master” for his spectacular sculptures and paintings. The irony here is that Michelangelo was guilty of producing works which even he eventually felt jealous of. So much so that he passed away inside a tomb while praying to the Pieta that he had sculpted. David, Bacchus, Moses, Madonna and the Child were so impeccable that he practically killed the illusion element behind an artwork. The line between what’s real and what’s fake was blurred, flipped, crushed to such an extent that he became a victim of his own skill. Vincent punished himself by painting his replica as a dead soul in “The Last Judgment” after an altercation with a renowned cardinal of Venice. Such was the magnitude of his greatness that he fell victim to his own talent and died a constant death with every masterpiece he made.
There have been artists like Frieda Kahlo, Amrita Shergil, Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat who lived oblivious lives and passed quite early due to some form of mental illness or the other. They transferred their illness onto the canvas to show how real their problems were. Their quest to express their emotions required them to actually part some part of their life onto that canvas.. . Fortunately, the world that we live in now is blessed to have copyrighters (and doctors of course) who arequick to name mental illness into well-defined terms. Plethora of research has been done on different form of mental illnesses, namely, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, or simply seizure that has helped create awareness among masses. It won’t be wrong to say that Vincent was a great inspiration for them. . One might wonder if Vincent was an artist of post-modern era, how his work might have looked without his mental condition? Would it have been better or would they have not been that impactful? This dilemma around an artist and his “madness” is a paradoxical one.
By bringing this dichotomy to light, the writer in no way intends to provide a validity to the suffering borne by the artists. What is being underlined here is that for others, art might be a food for the soul, but for an artist, it’s is a tool for self-discovery. By understanding this small aspect of an artist’s perception, we can build understanding and tolerance for every person who is undergoing a difficult phase in their life By accepting the “isness” of the situation and by constant encouragement, it is possible to develop therapies that can put such a person in a better state of mind without jeopardising the balance between their perception and expression.
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