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Artists through time have been known to struggle with mental illness. It’s not surprising to hear of poets, painters or musicians who are depressed nowadays. But one less-discussed facet of mental health and art is the occurrence of schizophrenia among the brightest minds of each generation.
The Many Faces of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia shows itself in different ways depending on how advanced it is, as well as various external triggers. Some people struggling with this disorder might even fall into catatonic schizophrenia, which basically implies that they sit still for hours staring into the void. Other suffer from psychotic breaks and intense hallucinations, and then there are some for who the illness doesn’t manifest itself overtly.
Schizophrenia has many faces, and even the most creative people struggle with it. Here are five amazing artists from fields such as painting, music, and literature who struggled with schizophrenia and their most notable works.
⦁ Vincent van Gogh
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Dutch Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is the most famous posthumously diagnosed schizophrenic in the world. His most notable works include The Starry Night, Bedroom in Arles, Irises, and his famous self-portrait, among many others. Most of his most famous works were produced during the last two years of his life when he painted over 2,100 pieces in either oil or watercolor.
He was notorious for his dramatic mood swings and psychotic episodes, with the most famous one leading to self-mutilation. Although the artist lived in a time prior to schizophrenia being discovered, more than 150 attributed this diagnosis to him over the years. Vincent van Gogh committed suicide in 1890, at the age of 37. He shot himself in the chest with a revolver.
⦁ Richard Dadd
Another painter who has been posthumously diagnosed with schizophrenia is Victorian artist Richard Dadd. His most famous works include fairies and other supernatural elements, as well as heavy Orientalist influences and mysterious objects. The most notorious trait shared by all his pieces is a minute attention to detail to the point of obsessiveness.
His paintings usually reflect themes of paranoia and isolation that is typical for people suffering from schizophrenia. Dadd painted most of his most notable works while in psychiatric care. He was committed in 1843, after an aggressive psychotic break that he had suffered in the winter of 1842 while on the river Nile in Egypt.
Following his return home, he started to believe that his father was the Devil, which led Dadd to kill him with a knife. He fled to France, but authorities apprehended him shortly after. He died in 1886 due to a disease of the lungs, after having spent 20 years in the infamous Bethlem mental hospital.
⦁ Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac was an American writer famous for his novel On the Road, as well as his vital contribution to the Beat movement alongside other legendary names in US literature such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady.
Kerouac was diagnosed with “dementia praecox” (referred to today as schizophrenia) by a Navy doctor during his short run 10-month in the Army. He died in 1969 due to cirrhosis of the liver, which he had acquired after a lifetime of alcoholism.
⦁ Syd Barrett
In the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, few names shine brighter than that of British progressive and psychedelic pioneers Pink Floyd. But very few people know that one of its found members, original lead singer and guitarist Syd Barrett, is one of the many famous musicians who struggled with schizophrenia for most of their lives.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Barrett was excluded from the band pretty early on in 1968 and replaced by the now acclaimed David Gilmour. The band took this decision because his unstable mental health was beginning to ruin their gigs. Secondly, Barrett did his best to hide his schizophrenia for the entirety of his life. He died in 2003 due to pancreatic cancer, at the age of 60.
⦁ Wesley Willis
Both a singer and a visual artist, Wesley Willis is famous for having appeared countless times on both MTV and the Howard Stern Show. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia while in his twenties, and he died two decades later due to leukemia.
Willis is known for having devised his own personalized terminology for his episodes. His psychotic breaks were “hell rides” during which he heard the voices of demons. These demons had names as well: Meansucker, Heartbreaker and Neverwrecker.
Among the endless list of artists from all fields and walks of life that have struggled with mental illness, only a fraction of them dealt with schizophrenia. However, even though the numbers are small, they can help regular people make sense of their situation as well. It just goes to show that being schizophrenic doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive or creative.
Written by: Alex Moore