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Diagnosing Artists’ Mental Issues Through Their Work

Could Vincent Van Gogh have been even more troubled than various film adaptations of his life let on? His latest biography, Van Gogh: The Life, shows the artist as a tortured, ear-slashing madman — eating paint, chugging turpentine, acting erratically, suffering deeply, and making street urchins snicker “nutter” at him as he came down the street. In light of his new exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Daily Beast’s Blake Gopnik takes a very, very close look at his art pieces and finds Van Gogh’s insanity plainly depicted in them. The quivering, frenzied lines, the haphazardness in brush-strokes, the strangely off hues — he sees not just originality, but visual signs of a specific madness. It’s actually a fascinating approach, but… What if we “read” all artists’ works as direct representations of their psychological and emotional problems?

Let’s do some intentionally amateur and superficial profiling and assign artists some illness and issues. We have no psychoanalytical expertise to back it up whatsoever, so please, criticize away. This is what happens when you really, really over-analyze — or under-analyze — an artist’s work. Really.

Let’s pretend for a second that Damien Hirst physically makes his own work. If we look at this seemingly-endless array of perfect little circles, perfectly spaced, painted over, and over, and over, and over… and over and over and over… It’s clear the maker is suffering “a significant preoccupation with perfection, control, and order” — or a lucrative case of obsessive compulsive disorder.

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