We made it in to Chicago again. I’ve always heard about the Chicago Art Institute, and finally got to go. We spent the whole day at there. It was delightful and reminded me of my younger days. I lived in New York City for quite a while and enjoyed “my” museums. I felt that some of the paintings were old friends. It was great to reacquaint myself with some of the same artists during our visit to the Art Institute.
Since I was a child, I was intrigued by the paintings and sculptures on display in museums. Mom took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the 1960s. Mom took me to see a Hans Hoffmann exhibit. She told me that I read the title of one of his paintings as ‘magnum ups’ instead of magnum opus, and that I told her that if she gave me a brush and some paints, I could paint a painting myself.
I always had a good eye, but chose science and engineering as a way to make a living. However, I always tried to develop ways of expressing myself, though writing, painting, drawing, sculpting or photography. I always wanted to find a way to bring my internal state of mind out so other people could know something about what it would be like to be me. I know that is an impossibility (see Empathy – Take 1), but I think there is a way to tap into basic human feelings and notions. For example, if I say, “the ferocious dog ran through the field,” each person has his or her own conception of ferocity, dogishness, and field, and reconstructs a personal image and meaning to the sentence.
Art and the brain
Writers create their art through words. Visual artists create through images. Some painters were consumed by the need to get their inner visions onto canvas. Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Edvard Munch come to mind. These artists bent the established ‘rules’ to find a way to match their inner vision: Van Gogh used heavy application of paint, texturing of space with his brush strokes, and chose common people as subjects; Cézanne worked incessantly on getting the appropriate color hues and saturations to satisfy his vision; Munch, famous for his iconic “Scream”,  captured the terror of a truly frightened person by physically distorting his face and the space around him.
Art and madness
This is a big topic, that deserves its own post, but I include a few examples to show that artistic expression can indeed bring to light the artist’s state of mind. Louis Wain  was an artist whose subjects were mainly cats. Although disputed, some note that his later work, fanciful depictions of cats, reflected his development of schizophrenia. Van Gogh was said to suffer from psychotic episodes and other mental problems, perhaps from exposure to the toxic agents in the paint he used. Munch also had problems with anxiety and suffered a nervous breakdown. “The Scream” was painted during this period. After his symptoms subsided, his work returned to an earlier form.  Diane Arbus, a photographer whose portraits tended to emphasize bizarre and unconventional subjects, committed suicide. I was told by Larry Fink, noted photographer, that her choice of subjects and the way she portrayed them reflected the way she saw the world.
What interests me here is the fact that it is possible that an accomplished artist, who has mastered technique enough to express his or her inner mental state can also betray a troubled mental state or even mental illness.