Flower Mandalas

Flower Mandalas

“Art of Healing” podcast by Bernie Siegel

Art of Healing

Just a quick note to let you know about a new podcast on the Art of Healing by Bernie Siegel. The podcast comes to me through the Art and Healing Network. Here’s a link to their current podcasts, including this new one by Dr. Siegel: The Art of Healing with Dr. Bernie Siegel

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

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Part III: Art and ‘Madness’ – Schizophrenic art

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Works by schizophrenic artists Adolfi Wolfli (left) and Arthur Bispo do Rosario (right)

Part III: Art and ‘Madness’

Schizophrenic art

Copyright 2013, David J. Bookbinder

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Romantic preoccupation with the idea that genius and madness were linked prompted a search for unrecognized geniuses in insane asylums. Previously seen as the mindless creations of lunatics, the art of the clinically insane suddenly attracted the attention of scholars.

An early example of scholarly attention was “Art and Artists in the Insane Asylum of Saint Benedetto,” written in Italy in 1880 by a physician named Dr. L. Frigerio. Frigerio was interested in finding relationships between the mental condition of the asylum’s inmates and their art. He noted that even among those who had never before been involved with art, many inmates began spontaneously to draw.

Frigerio’s work was joined by that of Cesare Lombroso, the most prominent proponent of the insane genius theory in the 19th century. In his book L’Uomo di Genio, first published in 1864, and in subsequent articles, Lombroso presented, classified, and attempted to analyze the drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other creations of mental patients. He isolated 13 basic characteristics of his patients’ works: originality; uselessness; uniformity; imitation; criminality and moral insanity (sexual perversion); minuteness of detail; absurdity; arabesques (abstracts); atavism (stylistic features from an earlier period); eccentricity; insanity as a subject; obscenity; and symbolism (symbols used consciously in an allegorical way). Lombroso theorized that “the imagination is most unrestrained when reason is least dominant, for the latter, by repressing hallucinations and illusions, deprives the average man of a true source of artistic and literary inspiration.”

The interest in the art of the insane continues into the present day, largely due to the influence of Surrealist French painter Jean Dubuffet, who traveled to Switzerland in 1945 and viewed the works of schizophrenic patients Adolf Wolfli, Heinrich Anton Muller, and Aloïse Corbaz. Dubuffet became acquainted with other schizophrenic artists, whose work was, to him, an example of the extreme individualism born of isolation. He spent the next 40 years collecting and popularizing this art, which he referred to as “Art Brut” (Raw Art), and which today is also known as “Outsider Art.” Dubuffet said in 1949, “Our point of view is that the role of art is always the same, and there is no more ‘art des fous’ than there is art of dyspeptics or of those with bad knees.”

A well-known example of art created by a mental patient is the extensive work of Arthur Bispo do Rosario, a paranoid schizophrenic who spent 50 years in the Juliano Moreira Colony for the mentally ill in Rio de Janeiro. He had no training in art and refused to participate in art therapy, but he created enigmatic cloaks, sashes, and other textile pieces, as well as sculptures made from whatever materials he could find in the hospital. He did not regard his creations as art but instead was preoccupied with recording the world as he saw it in order to save it in the Last Judgment; however, his works have been posthumously displayed worldwide.

The Swiss artist Adolf Wolfli, who spent the last 35 years of his life in the Waldau Psychiatric Clinic in Bern, was sent to the institution after three instances of attempted child molestation. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Although he was aware of the physical world around him, in his first few years in the institution he gradually constructed an imaginary life which he depicted in text and drawings, in part derived from his memories of growing up in Bern but much more so on illustrated calendars, magazines, and journals he used as sources for his self-created world. His life outside the institution had been brutal — an orphan before he was ten, a succession of foster homes, a short term in the infantry, two years in prison for the first two attempts at child molestation. But in his imagined world, he is a new person: “St. Adolf II, Master of Algebra, Military Commander-in Chief and Chief Music Director, Giant-Theater-Director, Captain of the Almighty-Giant-Steamship and Doctor of Arts and Sciences. Director of the Algebra and Geography Textbook Production Company and Fusilier General. Inventor of the 160 original and highly valuable inventions patented for all times by the Russian Tsar and hallelujah, the glorious victor of many violent battles against the Giants.”

Wolfli began to draw after his first four years in the Waldau clinic and by 1908, 13 years after his incarceration, had begun an epic autobiography which occupied his remaining 22 years. The work comprised 45 volumes, hand-bound by Wolfli. They intermingle reality and fiction and their 25,000 pages combine text with some 3000 illustrations, and conclude with a massive volume of nearly 3000 songs. Wolfli was unknown as an artist during his lifetime, but posthumously his work has been shown throughout Europe and the United States. In 1975, his work was transferred from the Waldau Psychiatric Clinic to the Kunst Museum in Bern.

Although his world was private, unlike most schizophrenics who make art Wolfli was aware of a potential audience. In his 11th volume, he wrote: “To be sure, the entire verbatim text in this little book, has the thought, attitude and character of a madman, as the introductory title clearly indicates. At bottom, it is however, fundamentally and throughout, a genuine and true edition and narrative. Thus, I herewith hope that the kind reader will appreciate my piece of entertainment staged in the cell of the mental asylum.”

To be continued….

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

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Text and images © 2013, David J. Bookbinder. All rights reserved.
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Mandalas: Alexey Kljatov’s snowflakes

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“Snow Flower” by Alexey Kljatov. Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Mandalas: Alexey Kljatov’s snowflakes

Copyright 2013, David J. Bookbinder
Just a quick note to let you know about the fascinating, mandala-like snowflake photographs of Alexey Kljatov. Using simple, inexpensive equipment (a Canon point-and-shoot camera and a standard SLR lens reverse-mounted to the Canon), he has assembled a spectacular collection of photographs taken from his balcony.

Here’s a link to his gallery on Flickr: Alexey Kljatov on Flickr

Here’s one to his website, where he describes how he creates these images: Snowflakes, night city and other things

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

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Phototransformations blog: Phototransformations
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Text © 2013, David J. Bookbinder. All rights reserved.
Permission required for publication. Images available for licensing.
flowermandalas.org

Part II: Art and ‘Madness’

Ascension_of_Polkadots_on_the_Trees.jpg

Yayoi Kusama – Ascension of Polkadots on the Trees at the Singapore Biennale 2006. Taken by Terence Ong in September 2006.

Part II: Art and ‘Madness’

Copyright 2013, David J. Bookbinder

I only know that summer sang in me a little while, that in me sings no more.
“Sonnet XLII,” Edna St. Vincent Millay

Many of the studies psychologists have conducted on the link between creativity and mental illness weigh in on the side of a probable connection between the two. This probable connection was first documented in a clinical study that began in 1974. Nancy Andreasen, at the time a prominent researcher in schizophrenia, studied 15 writers at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and compared them to 15 non-writers who had the same educational level as the Iowa writers but didn’t have talent or interest in creative writing. Her results: nearly 43% of the creative writers met the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar disorder, one-third had experienced an episode of depression, two-thirds of the bipolar or depressed writers had received psychiatric treatment, and five of the 15 committed suicide before the study was completed in 1987.

Johns Hopkins University psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, who herself has bipolar disorder, found a similar pattern when she examined biographical studies. For example, Jamison found that British poets were 30 times more likely than the general population to have bipolar disorder, five times more likely to commit suicide, and 20 times more likely to be committed to an asylum. She popularized the connection between mood disorders and artistic creativity in her book, Touched With Fire: Manic-depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.

Researchers who believe there is a strong connection between mood disorders and creativity have theorized that the repeated cycling between positive and negative mood typical of bipolar disorder might create a more complex mental organization, and that the a mildly manic state is conducive to the type of focus, thinking, and energy associated with creative thought.

But other researchers believe the connection between psychopathology and creativity is dubious. Some criticize the methodologies of studies conducted by Jamison and Andreasen and have come to the opposite conclusion. Albert Rothenberg, a psychiatrist at Harvard University who specializes in the creative process, had conducted a historical study of past creative geniuses, interviewed artists and scientists extensively, and conducted experiments with some 1000 research subjects. He notes that what he calls “translogical thinking” is present in both creative people and psychotics.

But creativity, Rothenberg maintains, is not pathological. Although he agrees that there is a similarity between psychotic and creative processes, there is also a boundary between them that makes all the difference.

Canadian psychiatrists A-M. Ghadirian, P. Gregoire, and H. Hosmidis (2001) reviewed the work of Jamison, Andreasen, Ludwig, and others who had claimed to find a high correlation between creativity and mood disorders, and they conducted their own studies to test prior researchers’ conclusions. They sought to compare the level of creativity of bipolar patients with that of patients with other psychopathologies (schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorder). They divided their subjects into subgroups of severely ill, moderately ill, mildly ill, and recovered subjects. They hypothesized that their results would confirm prior studies and that their bipolar subjects would prove to be more creative than the other subjects of their study. Instead, they found little difference with regard to creativity between the bipolar and other patients. However, they did find that subjects identified as moderately ill demonstrated the most creativity, regardless of their illness.

George Becker, a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, disputed the modern interpretation of the quotations from the Greeks and Romans connecting madness and art. He pointed out that when Plato and Aristotle spoke of “divine madness,” this quality was distinct from what we think of as mental illness. Instead, in Plato’s Phaedrus, it was regarded as a diving gift given to only a select few. When Aristotle, in his Poetics, asserted that those possessed of great talent were also of a melancholic temperament, he did not believe that all melancholic people were insane. Instead, in Aristotle’s time, the melancholic could be either a madman or a person of distinction depending on the balance of his bodily humors.

Becker argued that the association between mental illness and creativity does not predate the 1830s. He traced the modern-day connection of madness and art to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Romantics appropriated the sayings of Plato, Aristotle, and others as a way of distinguishing themselves as uniquely talented individuals. “It was the aura of mania,” Becker argued, “that endowed the genius with a mystical and inexplicable quality that differentiated him from the typical man, the bourgeois, the philistine, and the merely talented.” By adopting this “aura of mania,” the Romantics could distinguish themselves from the common man. Artists defined creative genius as necessarily containing elements of mental anguish and madness. He believes that this association by artists continues into the present.

Also supporting the idea that artists are no more mad — or at least not much more mad — than other people is a study of the symptoms art students seeking therapy presented at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This study of 162 undergraduate and graduate students who came to counseling services during a one-year period found that these emerging artists had psychological disturbances comparable to those of other college students.

A 2003 study at Harvard University provides one possible causal clue to the art/madness link. The study showed that both high-functioning creative people and psychotic people seem to take in, at a sensory level, much more than most other people do. In test subjects whose IQ scores were lower than 120, this characteristic, called “decreased latent inhibition,” correlated with more mental illness. In test subjects whose IQ scores were greater than 120, however, decreased latent inhibition seemed to be associated with increased creative ability. Creative achievers in the study were seven times as likely to have low latent inhibition scores when compared to a control group of students with normal levels of latent inhibition. The researchers concluded that in people who have higher innate intelligence, what might otherwise lead to psychopathology can become an advantage. The authors hypothesized that having access to a greater range and quantity of stimuli at a later stage in mental processing can facilitate creative potential in people whose intelligence enables them to process the extra information.

The Harvard study is undoubtedly not the last word in the mad artist argument.

To be continued….

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

Buy Flower Mandala prints and cards: Flower Mandala prints
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Text and images © 2013, David J. Bookbinder. All rights reserved.
Permission required for publication. Images available for licensing.
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