Van Gogh cut his ear off. Gauguin had a mid-life crisis and shacked up with frighteningly young Tahitian girls. Munch suffered from hallucinations. It’s a cliché that all great artists are crazy. However, the “tortured artist” stereotype certainly has a basis in fact — many famous artists’ most emotionally resonant works were created during times of emotional turmoil, the result of an all-consuming mental ailment. Not merely aesthetic masterpieces, these pieces offer great insight into an artist’s inner torment. Inspired by the fantastic Yayoi Kusama retrospective that’s currently up at the Whitney Museum, after the jump we look at some of history’s greatest mentally unstable artists and the work that beautifully captures their crises.
Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration (1967)
Yayoi Kusama was only a little girl when she began hallucinating the dots, nets, and flowers that have dominated her six-decade career. “My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease,” she told BOMB in a 1999 interview. “I was hospitalized at the mental hospital in Tokyo in 1975 where I have resided ever since. I chose to live here on the advice of a psychiatrist. He suggested I paint pictures in the hospital while undergoing medical treatment. This happened after I had been traveling through Europe, staging my fashion shows in Rome, Paris, Belgium and Germany… My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.”