Date of Submission

Spring 2020

Academic Program

Art History

Project Advisor 1

Susan Aberth

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Our merging of artistic ability and mental instability is a notion that goes farther back than many of us realize. This idea of “fine madness,” that creativity and madness are not so far apart, and that artists have, through their mercurial temperaments some kind of extraordinary gift, has a long history and was significantly bolstered during the Romantic Era. But what does the “mad genius” archetype actually mean for artists? How does it change how they and their art are viewed by the public? My senior thesis explores how being labeled mentally ill has affected the reputation and reception of Vincent Van Gogh and Yayoi Kusama — arguably the two most famous examples of this trope. My research focuses on how the label of mental illness has led to myth-making that has propelled the two to fame but also led critics to unfairly attribute the lion’s share of their artistic ability and success to the presence of mental illness. It looks at the similarities between the receptions of Van Gogh and Kusama’s as well as how they differ: notably, through the fact that Kusama had agency and control over the narrative created about her life and art, while Van Gogh did not.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
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