Schizophrenic Artists

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An interesting survey, conducted by psychologist Daniel Nettle, at Newcastle University, and Helen Clegg, at the Open University in Milton Keynes, compared answers from artists, schizophrenics, and the general population and found that artists and schizophrenics are more likely to share key behavioral traits. They hypothesized that the same genes that predispose people to schizophrenia may also play a factor in artists’ creativity. While most artists do not have full-blown schizophrenia, there are a few notable artists who suffered from the disorder.

Louis Wain, known as the Cat Artist, is one of the most well-known schizophrenic artists. His drawings of cats, specifically a series of five of his paintings, are often used as an illustration of someone’s mental condition deteriorating due to mental illness. It’s not actually clear that those pictures were produced in the order in which they’re presented or that they are a result of his descent into schizophrenia, but they do provide an interesting visual of what that descent might be like.

Adolf Wolfli, a Swiss artist who suffered from psychosis and intense hallucinations, was one of the first artists associated with the “Art Brut” (Raw Art) label. Art Brut was a term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet, who was quite influenced by art produced by people in mental health institutions, particularly schizophrenics--works by schizophrenic artists like Wolfli and the Swiss artist Heinrich Anton Muller comprised over half of Dubuffet’s Art Brut collection. Adolf Wolfli, who died in 1930, was a prolific artist and hugely influential to a number of artists and composers. The collection of the Adolf Wolfli Foundation is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, Switzerland.

Ralph Albert Blakelock was an American artist who died in 1919, after suffering for decades from a mental disorder many believe to have been schizophrenia. He painted landscapes that were acclaimed even during his lifetime, although Blakelock and his family did not ever benefit from his talent as they should have. He continued to paint his entire life, even while institutionalized due to his mental health.

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