Artist Diaries: Creativity and insanity

"Deux grandes marguerites" Louis Séraphine de Senlis
Seraphine
"Deux grandes marguerites" by Louis Séraphine de Senlis

I didn’t pick up the brush much this week so little progress has been made on my actual painting. Although I didn’t paint, I have thought much about creativity and the consequences of pursuing my goal of becoming a master painter. It seems it can be quite deadly.

I watched two movies this week about artists. If you recall, I set off on this endeavor after being inspired by the documentary Amargosa. So, it seems quite fitting that two other movies would have me contemplating the possible negative repercussions of my artistic pursuits.

The first movie is Séraphine (2008). A beautifully shot film directed by Martin Provost based on the life of naïve style French painter Séraphine de Senlis (1864–1942). Yolande Moreau plays Séraphine a humble housekeeper who performs demanding errands for several households during the day and spends evenings painting by candlelight in isolation. The movie highlights Séraphine’s talent not only for being a self-taught painter, but also her ability to create her own colors and pigments. She never reveals how she created her paints, but they have stood the test of time in vividness and richness. Of course, none of this would really make a fascinating film (especially one in French with English subtitles) without the fatal flaw. Séraphine is depicted to slowly loose her grip on reality and in 1932 is admitted to the psychiatric ward of a geriatric hospital at Clermont for “chronic psychosis”. She eventually dies in 1942 friendless and alone.

The second movie is Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006). Although on IMDb, Séraphine and Fur differ by only 1.3 stars, these movies could not be on farther ends of the train track. One person called Fur a “furry mess” and I would agree. It is Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland gone wrong. Fur is suppose to capture a portrait of the inner mind of Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) an American photographer and writer who became well-known for black-and-white photographs of “deviant and marginal people”. I felt this film lacked sensitivity and thoughtful reflection of the subject matter. Instead Fur is wrought with cliches and simplified emotions that plague Hollywood-type movies. In the end though, Diane, like Séraphine also dies a tragic death. In this case Diane commits suicide.

So at last, we get to the original point of this post. See a pattern? In both cases, the creative artist becomes a victim of their own mental state and fall to tragedy. Who knew my endeavor could lead me down such a precarious path.

So were these two profiles simply the exception or is there a link between creativity and insanity? In trying to open the floodgates of my own creativity (okay, maybe for me it will only be a mere trickle) am I balancing on a delicate tightrope and coming dangerously close to creativity’s alter ego?

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