Thursday, August 04, 2005

My Art is Chained to the Wall

Mind Hacks recently posted about Henry Darger. They link to several sites about Darger, including the PBS website devoted to Henry's works and life.

Many people have attempted to understand the relationship between mental illness and artistic abilities, if one truly exists at all. Kay Jamesfield Ramison wrote a detailed book entitled Touched by Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, investigating the link between artistic talent/expression and psychiatric disorders. It's a bit data heavy but is still an interesting read.

I like these types of stories because they lend evidence to the fact that having a mental illness does not exclude you from being a necessary component of our society. Usually, we are bombarded with the darker side of psychiatric diseases. If Henry Darger had murdered somebody, CNN would have covered it for days--chalking it up as another crazy set loose in society to slaughter innocent victims. Apparently, his artistic genius was not "front page" material for many of our "more popular" media outlets, but his story did and will continue to make it into other venues thanks to PBS, NPR, etc. Ah, but I digress.

Darger's story struck a very personal chord with me. Brother1 was an extraordinarily gifted artist. At a young age, people who saw his works were convinced that he was going to be famous. Unfortunately, his illness took away his abililty to focus and his fine motor skills, making drawing and writing difficult, if not impossible. Watching him lose his ability to create beautiful and fantastic realms, filled with bizarre and glorious creatures, was, for me, the most painful part of his illness. I wonder how many artistic masterminds will go undiscovered because their hands are bound by an illness we can't control.

I know many people who feel frustrated when they can't explore their interests because of their jobs, families, or other committments in life. Their frustration is real, but their chains are often not. I can not imagine what it is like to have the gift, a head and heart filled with creativity and ideas, but not the ability to use that gift.


At 9:35 AM, Blogger sue said...

You've brought up a valid point. Thank you. You reminded me of our state fair where they have a building dedicated to art. It's one of my favorite places to go. One large room is done by mentally or physically 'handicapped' people. It is truly amazing. I hadn't heard of this man and found it extremely interesting.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Amber said...

Thank you for posting this. I've dealt with being bipolar for far too long, and all that anyone ever talks about in the media is the horrible things that happen with people who have the disorder and other mental problems.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger trisha said...

Thanks from me, too! I spent a large chunk of my day looking at stuff about Darger. Very sweet.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

SFTR: I'm so sorry about your brother. It's very sad to see psychological disorders interrupting a life so much. A supervisor was just telling me a story about a guy she worked with who was bi-polar and was brilliant at his job, but even though his dx is now under control, his employer won't hire him back out of fear.

The connection between artistic abilities and depression, etc., is an interesting one. I imagine Jamison has something of a vested interest in finding a connection. I think it is in Peter Kramer's new book (Against depression) that he sets out to debunk the "romanticized" idea that those with mental illness are more creative (or noble).


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