Did Van Gogh’s Mental Health Difficulties Add To His Creative Genius?

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week will take place from 10-16th May 2021.  Mental health has been a massive part of art for generations. So many artists have had issues with their mental health, it is assumed because of their sensitivity to the world around them. Creativity exists from how people feel and some of the best artists have been through their fair share of emotions and hardship.

Artists – including myself – have used art as a way to rehabilitate and fuel their energy into something positive. I was an alcoholic for a long time, I used to drink every day for 25 years until I realised if I didn’t stop it would kill me. No one sets out to be an alcoholic. It creeps up on you until you reach the point where you cross the line, and you are hooked. Then it destroys your life – physically, mentally, and spiritually. I put the drink down and recovered, coming up for 21 years now and anyone can if you want to enough.

‘Alive & Well’ – 164×164 cm mixed media on board
‘Alive & Well’ – 164×164 cm mixed media on board
Café Table With Absinthe - Vincent Van Gogh 1887
Café Table With Absinthe – Vincent Van Gogh 1887

Vincent Van Gogh is an artist who unfortunately represents mental instability. Famous for cutting off a part of his ear which serves as a sad reminder of the darkness that comes hand in hand with creative genius. His struggles with alcohol and the damaging relationship he endured with it was apparent in his paintings and diary, in particular with Absinthe which originally very addictive as it contained wormwood, and which was banned in France in 1915.

Vincent dedicated his life to art aged 27, after becoming alienated to his parents, unemployed and living in poverty. It is apparent from his paintings the state of his mind throughout his life. Starting with dark, miserable paintings during the beginning of his artistic career when he was at his lowest, it is apparent that while living in ‘Arles’, Vincent was most inspired – where most of his best work was painted.

“The Langlois Bridge at Arles with lady and umbrella”. Arles, May 1888
“The Langlois Bridge at Arles with lady and umbrella”. Arles, May 1888

After experiencing a few episodes, he described as ‘crises’, he said:

“Work distracts me infinitely better than anything else, and if I could once really throw myself into it with all my energy, that might possibly be the best remedy” – Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is an incredible advocate for creativity during hardship, up to the date of his suicide in 1890, Vincent did not allow his poor mental health to stop him from painting – instead he used it as therapy. We should remember Vincent and these other artists during Mental Health Awareness Week and continue to use art as an emotional outlet to aid in mental health recovery.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, or need mental health support, there are a list of charity organisations that may be able to help here.

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