Creativity and Madness

I highly recommend a book called "Creativity & Madness: Psychological Studies of Art & Artists".  You can find it used online for 20 bucks or new at the author's website for $25. I read it years ago and recently picked it up again. The most interestingly self-relevent subject matter discussed is regarding "mirroring" and/or the Oedipal complex in which the artist sees the parent as an artist and feels the need to repeat and surpass the parent's ability in order to win their favor... even after the parent's death.  Vincent van Gogh's mother sketched flowers, Jackson Pollack's mother was a weaver and quilt maker and encouraged art in the house, Frida Kahlo's father was a professional photographer, Picasso's father an artist.Detail of Willy by Ryan Swallow
I grew up watching my father paint landscapes, farmland, buildings and swallow birds.  My early attempts at drawing were average to horrible.  It wasn't until I was 18 and taking my first drawing class in college that I knew I could draw.  
After I put this book down I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own life, my decisions and how I had been impacted by my father's passion for painting.  I'll leave it at that for now, but there is certainly a connection there that I believe is less genetic and more an observed admiration that transforms a person into an artist.
-Ryan Swallow

Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life. Psychologically speaking, to discover something mysterious in objects is a symptom of cerebral abnormality related to certain kinds of insanity. I believe, however, that such abnormal moments can be found in everyone, and it is all the more fortunate when they occur in individuals with creative talent or with clairvoyant powers. Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies, fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men. 
-Giorgio de Chirico

Diana by Augustus Saint-GaudensA great artist… must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.  

What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.  
-Augustus Saint-Gaudens

There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. 
-Oscar Levant

The fine arts once divorcing themselves from truth are quite certain to fall mad, if they do not die.  
-Thomas Carlyle, Latter Day Pamphlets, no. 8

Art will remain the most astonishing activity of mankind born out of struggle between wisdom and madness, between dream and reality in our mind. 
-Magdalena Abakanowicz

Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia. 
-Brett Whiteley
For me, painting is a way to forget life. It is a cry in the night, a strangled laugh.
-Georges Rouault

I paint in order not to cry.
- Paul Klee 

The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.
-Salvador Dali


  1. Intriguingly the photo you have of people making up a skull is similar to a print in the RAA exhibition of Kuniyoshi. There is some suggestion that he might have seen the prints of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's paintings of faces made up of vegetables.

  2. Nightwatchmen, that has always been my thought as well.