Psychotic Art
Posted by yahiaoui
8th Dec 2018

‘The task of art is enormous.’
Leo Tolstoy

Ever since I can remember I have been inspired to produce works of art. From my earliest childhood I have both made copies from nature and the world around me, and also drawn directly from my imagination.

As I grew older, I tried to emulate the old masters, my heroes: Degas, Delacroix, Ingres...and many more. I sought to marry expression of feeling with technical expertise. Whilst engaged in this merriment, I felt an infinite life of art production before me. But all was to come to a halting end with a psychotic episode. Later, other episodes would follow and my diagnosis became schizophrenia.

I found the illness mentally debilitating. I could not concentrate for long enough to paint or even undertake detailed drawings, and my stress and anxiety levels were so acute that I could not physically pursue any thorough artistic undertakings.

I, however, felt more compelled than ever to produce art. All I could muster though was the strength to produce greeting cards. I played around with colours, textures and shapes and also bought some embellishments.

While in a psychotic state, truth be told, I was not concerned with my customers’ approval and satisfaction as I am when in a healthy state. I produced cards at a frantic pace while reflecting on my life since suffering from the mental illness. I could not help but ask myself why this sudden impulsion to produce art for my own pleasure and for the sake of its own production?

I became accustomed to having the merits and defects of my art work discussed by peers and professionals when I was mentally healthy. But now art took on a new meaning, as though it became a tool to help me process my place in the world around me now that I was no longer mentally well.

Walk down any city and you will see a grand building erected specifically for the consumption of art. People devote their lives meeting the ideals of their artistic profession or vocation. Tolstoy protests in What is Art? That although these artists are often very kind and clever, and capable of all sorts of useful labour, they grow savage over their specialised art, and become one-sided and self complacent specialists.

Significantly, schizophrenia and psychosis provided me with a freedom from artistic conventions. In a psychotic state, I was no longer enslaved to ideals but my hand movements were direct expressions of my inner most thoughts, in the deepest recessives of my imagination.

By not seeking beauty for other’s enjoyment, my works to some may appear utterly incomprehensible abstract creations. These works were rushed as my hand could not keep up with my mind and were mostly produced in a state of anger and anxiety. But is it art or merely a folly?

Ruskin categorises art as high and low, based on the person’s employment of their mental faculties. With psychosis, the sufferer qualifies for diminished capacity. They are considered to not possess the mental capacity to be responsible for their actions.

So is my art less valuable when I am ill?

As art is a direct expression of my feelings, does it entail that my feelings are less important and valued too? No, I can answer with certainly. So my art therefore is no less important when I am mentally ill.

Furthermore, as the well being of man lies in building good, healthy ties and unions with his and her fellow men and woman, is not the production of expressions of illness beneficial to other members of society. It opens a dialogue between the sick and the healthy and is also by impulse a cry out for help. A study and appreciation of the works of the sick allows one to enter into their turbulent mind and builds empathy.

Art demands tremendous labour sacrifices and can stunt human life, and as Tolstoy argues is not only a thing that is not clearly and firmly defined, but understood in such contradictory ways that it is difficult to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, useful art.

Understanding mental illness through art is another useful approach for those dedicating their life to the scientific study and research of mental illness. It creates a union between sufferers who identify with mental illness and it builds empathy with those lucky enough to be healthy. Art in all its forms, from paintings to scribbles is of the utmost importance.

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