Monday, September 26, 2011
This painting is so intricate that it doesn't reproduce well on the blog. It is chock full of figures and little dramas. It is called "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" painted between 1855 and 1864 while Richard Dadd was incarcerated in a hospital for the insane in England. This image is reproduced in Wikipedia and if you go there you can enlarge it and look at detail.
This is what Wikipedia had to say about Dadd;
Dadd was born at Chatham, Kent, England, the son of a chemist. His aptitude for drawing was evident at an early age, leading to his admission to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 20. With William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg, Henry O'Neil and others, he founded The Clique, of which he was generally considered the leading talent.
In July 1842, Sir Thomas Phillips, the former mayor of Newport, chose Dadd to accompany him as his draftsman on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Southern Syria and finally Egypt. In November of that year they spent a gruelling two weeks in Southern Syria, passing from Jerusalem to Jordan and returning across the Engaddi wilderness. Toward the end of December, while travelling up the Nile by boat, Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change, becoming delusional and increasingly violent, and believing himself to be under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris. His condition was initially thought to be sunstroke.
On his return in the spring of 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and was taken by his family to recuperate in the countryside village of Cobham, Kent. In August of that year, having become convinced that his father was the Devil in disguise, Dadd killed him with a knife and fled for France. En route to Paris Dadd attempted to kill another tourist with a razor, but was overpowered and was arrested by the police. Dadd confessed to the killing of his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital (also known as Bedlam). Here and subsequently at the newly created Broadmoor Hospital, Dadd was cared for (and encouraged to continue painting) by the likes of Drs William Wood and Sir W. Charles Hood, in an enlightened manner.
Dadd probably suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia. He appears to have been genetically predisposed to mental illness; two of his siblings were similarly afflicted, while a third had "a private attendant" for unknown reasons.
Its hard to estimate how many years Dadd spent in a psychiatric hospital but my guess is about 40 years. He was never again a free man and died at the age of 69 in a hospital for the criminally insane.
A noted famous modern psychiatrist has re-diagnosed Dadd. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is noted for her autobiographical book "The Unquiet Mind" where she writes about her experience with having a bi-polar mental illness. Dr. Jamison has written several books in her career (several years ago she won a MacArthur genius award) and the book we bought for my mental illness peer support group was, "Touched With Fire; Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperment". I read it and found that Dr. Jamison figures Dadd was a manic-depressive because the illness of schizophrenia would have caused too much brain damage and robbed him of his creative powers. Bi-polar people have a long list of writers, poets, musical composers and authors to their credit and Jamison includes this list of over two hundred famous creative minds who suffered from some sort of mood disorder in her book. On this list there are little symbols next to each name. The symbols indicate whether or not the individual was 1) treated in an asylum or psychiatric hospital 2) committed suicide or 3) attempted suicide
Two thesis's struck me strongly in Dr. Jamison's book. First, that if bi-polar illness is left untreated it gets worse, the cycling of manic and depressive emotions increases in frequency and the pain to the individual is so overwhelming that it usually results in their early death. The person just can't take anymore of that type of existence.
But second, that creative work is excessive and of high quality in bi-polar people at a rate that far, far exceeds schizophrenic people. In one study of writers, bi-polar or depressive people enrolled in a famous graduate program were numerous, yet there were no schizophrenics present. Dr. Jamison believes that creative gifts are given to people with mood disorders, but schizophrenics have an entirely different type of illness and are too sick to make use of their gifts if they have them. Schizophrenics can be creative, but they can't reach the genius heights of bi-polar people.
Dr. Jamison could not believe that talent such as Richard Dadd's could exist in a schizophrenic, so she re-diagnosed him as bi-polar.
I would love to see a book dedicated to artwork made by schizophrenic people.
I think the best way such a book could be made is for the author to travel to different social clubhouses and hold much hyped, quality art shows. In my experience, the best artists may be too sick and withdrawn to use the clubhouse much, but if they are invited to show their art, they may take the effort to enter the exhibition. In this way the author could flush out people with talent who are living reclusive lives. I've seen great art by schizophrenics, however, these schizophrenics were not very social beings and had no skills to promote their art outside of the community of mental health providers. In fact, of the artists I encountered, the number one barrier to the success of the artist was the schizophrenic's inability to trust. The schizophrenic people I met while coordinating an art show for two years at a social clubhouse were mostly fairy tale magical people, quiet people, whose emotions were hidden and deep. When we had our show some of the workers at the clubhouse were amazed at the talent that materialized - they couldn't predict who would be the stars of the show because these stars were barely known to them as their clients.
I think a book on schizophrenic art would encourage schizophrenics to make art. Pride in one's abilities. Legitimization of a fragile population. There could be a section of self-taught artists, and a section on artists that went to art school and got technical training before they got sick. Of course we would claim Dadd as one of our own, and his works, a triumph of schizophrenia.
A friend of mine was talking to me on the phone about a mutual acquaintance who enjoys writing poetry. We three are all schizophrenic and each live in a different state. The poet had recently gotten a poem published in a newsletter put out by a regional mental health organization. This organization went one step further to honor their mentally ill participating poets, writers, and artists - they threw a banquet. The poet was very proud that her poem was published and she was just over the moon to go to the banquet.
My friend on the telephone got quiet excited about advocating for the poet, and myself, to push our creative work into mainstream society. My friend said that our work was good enough to go up against healthy people, and that we were handicapped by only participating in situations where we were in the company of other mentally ill people. A slight inaccuracy on her part, as I have shown five times in mainstream art galleries with mainstream artists.
But I know that the work done by well minded or at least non-schizophrenic persons is so good that I can't compare. I visited an art gallery here in town yesterday and I was shocked at how good some of the art was. While I rejoice at looking at images of intense creativity, I can't help but compare myself. I knew I wasn't looking at schizophrenic art. And I knew that I was looking at people who have if not more talent than me, then at least, more ability than me. There is a difference between talent and ability. Talent is raw vision, ability is the follow through that makes talent build and build until a complex finished art object is created.
The eye that beholds a canvass for twenty hours creates something different from the eye that beholds a canvass for one hundred hours. Finesse, gloss, complexity, and detail will be more prevalent in the one hundred hour gaze.
One thing to remember about Richard Dadd and the painting that started this blog is that it took nine years to complete. Work on a single painting for that long, after you have had extensive formal painting and experience during pre-illness, and it is bound to be extraordinary. His life circumstances were extraordinary - he was locked up, no freedom, and had none of the distractions of living mainstream life. He could afford to have over those long nine years periods of productivity and periods of madness.
One of the attributes of my schizophrenia is the loss, after several hours, of the ability to concentrate. Talent has a hard time to develop because ability is cut short.
I won't let what I see in art galleries or museums effect my effort to make art on as many days as I'm able. I won't let my envy of other artist's ability poison me into abandoning the effort to make art in the first place. But I do feel, deep inside, that I should be compared with other schizophrenic artists. My friend wishing to push me into mainstream competition was nice, and supportive, but ignorant. She doesn't appreciate how good the mainstream competition can be. I would like to show with my peers - other schizophrenic artists. If this is backwards, so be it. It smacks to my senses of withdrawal from society.
That seems to be the direction I wish the most to go in, a withdrawal like Dadd's. I want to live in a place where distractions are few, freedoms aren't exploited, and I live in a prison of my own construction.
Sunshine is appreciated and does impinge upon my senses.
But I have noticed that walks in the forest do little good. Went on one recently and as I walked I studied the muddy ground of the trail. I look down almost all of the time. Its a bit overwhelming to be in nature. Nature, that essence that healthy people thinks is so magical and uplifting did nothing for me but make me nervous.
I'm afraid that nature can't break through my walls of schizophrenia.