Madness and Art

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was leafing through a couple of my books on cybernetics (1) and found an article entitled Communication Between the Sane and the Insane: Hypnosis in one book (2) (posting my review here) and a chapter entitled Problems of Deranged Minds, Artists and Psychiatrists in the other. (3)   I am reading through the latter article but will not have anything of merit to say until I have understood its contents to a significant degree. There was one interesting thought that I could immediately explore. The author Steven Heim, summarizes Michel Foucault‘s link between a creative individual and insanity by saying, “He [Foucault] sees the creation of a work of art and its truth as the antithesis of madness.” (4)

Today’s watercolor experiment:

In visual terms I imagine that the ‘antithesis’ of one color is that color’s complement. Complementary colors are those opposite to each other on a standard color wheel (i.e., red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple). Likewise, the antithesis of color is black or gray.

Since not all ‘red’ or ‘green’ pigments are pure, some combinations are not precise complements. I started my study by laying down patches of different red in my palette and combining them with different greens. The red pigments I used were alizarine crimson, winsor red, quinacridone red, and cadmium red. I added three greens to each of these areas of red: permanent green #1 (Holbein), phthalo green and Hooker’s green.

Watercolor: Abstract - Compliments, Red and Green

Beginning: Complements

This exercise is preliminary to an as-yet designed composition that would make use of colors that would cancel each other to form a neutral gray. Colors coming together to form an absence of color is very close to the idea that madness and creativity cannot coexist.

I have always approached the idea that what we call ‘madness’, is strictly the domain of the brain and body. Foucault had other ideas about madness. He approached madness as a social construct, an idea that seems to subsume causes of mental dysfunction or disorder.

I completed today’s study with by overlaying a big ‘X’ over the canceling red/green colors and blacking out the edges surrounding them. This is the overriding societal judgement that Foucault would say defines madness.

Watercolor: Abstract - Compliments Red and Green on Black

Madness
6″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


(1) An interdisciplinary science using techniques of one field in another, e.g. mathematics in the study of biological systems.

(2) Cybernetics, Transactions of the Eight Conference (Progress Associates 1952)

(3) Heim, S.J. The Cybernetics Group, Cambridge MIT Press 1991

(4) Ibid., pg 144

3 thoughts on “Madness and Art

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