Home Magazine Madness: between visual art and cinema

“There is no great genius without some touch of madness” Aristotle.

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The topics of insanity and madness in the arts have always been very interesting themes indeed. Intellectuals, artists and writers largely focused on these issues, specifically in relationship with the act of creation and fantasy. Since the medieval time, many essays have been written on this regard, analyzing the act of the lunatic creative artist and his/her work of art. 


Alberto Giacometti in his studio, courtesy Gagosian.


The topic of madness is a delicate and complex one and it has always accompanied the history of culture, in particular the art side of it: the artist in fact has always been considered – and still is today – a “different” “extraordinary” spirit, not “normal” - if “normal” can be evaluated as a human category. Artists, poets, painters, sculptors and many cinema directors – from George Méliès to Orson Welles, from David Lynch to Quentin Tarantino, for instance – have often been considered as borderline characters, with different attitudes and extravagant lives, living in their own community and according to their own rules. The artist is often considered as an outsider, and, also for this reason, everything he/she does is tolerated and accepted as something special: to get outside the structure and a certain system it is something special.


Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in his studio.


In the history of art, there are numerous and famous examples. From Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (they portraited old people and psychiatric patient), from Durer to Botticelli or Artemisia Gentileschi, from Asger Jorn to Basquiat: visual art has always shared its “products” with the history of its creators. If Pollock had been a quiet soul, would he have become famous?And what about Jean Michel Basquiat? What if he did not die at 28? In our Art History books there are some romantic episodes that were used to picture these unique artists: Van Gogh and his cut ear, Francisco Goya’s ghosts that he drew on the walls of his own house after his vivid nightmares. And again, quoting Albert Einstein’s sentence “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, Giorgio Morandi’s attitude towards painting comes to our mind: his aim was to create different still life with the repetition of the same objects; or Carl Andre and his repetition of shapes; or Alberto Giacometti who, for his entire life as sculptor and painter, was trying to achieve perfection into the making of fine human beings. 


Pieter Bruegel, the Elder - The Beggars, 1568.


So, if truly the primitive, impulsive and puerile attitude towards things represents an added value into quality and sensitivity, we can admit that it is a privilege and a responsibility at the same time. “Every advance of intellect beyond the ordinary measure, as an abnormal development, disposes to madness” as Arthur Schopenhauerwrote. Madness as an added value as Charles Bukowsky claimed, “mental sanity is an imperfection”. 

Without these “madness” mood and attitude, would these characters and others – Michelangelo, Frida Kahlo, Modigliani, Leonardo … - have left such important traces?


Jean Michel Basquiat, Irony of Negro Policeman, 1981.


Cover image: Edvard Munch, the Scream, 1893 courtesy Eduard Munch Archive.

Written by Rossella Farinotti

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