While art and madness seem to go hand in hand (Camille Claudel and Vincent Van Gogh being two more famous examples), it’s still fascinating to use art as a means of cataloging the inner processes that come with mental illness. So with that in mind, let’s talk about a few artists whose work has been used as a diagnostic method of understanding mental illness.
William Kurelek started showing symptoms of schizophrenia just after graduating High School, and his subsequent artwork is chock full of paranoia, alienation, and fear. As he got older, Kurelek’s symptoms lessened and his work turned to more traditional realms (mostly depicting religious themes).
Louis Wain, on the other hand, fell victim to schizophrenia at the age of 57 and his subsequent work shares only the subject matter with his earlier (and quite famous) paintings and cartoons. The art examples here are especially interesting, as they evolve from very typical 1900’s style paintings to elaborate and almost impossibly complex renditions that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1960’s (which puts Wain about 40 years ahead of the psychedelic movement).
As a contrast, you might take a look at Newsday‘s gallery of The Later Works of William Utermohlen, which detail Utermohlen’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Diagnosed in 1995, Utermohlen captured his diminishing capacities with each subsequent portrait, which eventually lose all depth and form.
Of course I can’t talk about mental illness and artists without mentioning the great Daniel Johnston, who has battled manic depression most of his life. While known more for his songwriting (which is in turn childlike and genius), Johnston is also an artist and filmmaker, and his output very much reflects his ups and downs. Do yourself a favor and rent ’The Devil & Daniel Johnston‘ for a wonderful portrait of a guy who should be a lot more famous than he is.