Saturday, February 14, 2009

In preparation for my first exhibit, I had to create an hour long presentation for the NAMI conference. At first I was nervous about filling in an entire hour with information. However, I soon discovered that I could go on for hours. I found links between mental illness, creativity, the right side of the brain, art therapy and even stigma. I plan to use some of my research in an informative documentary (for educational purposes). A portion of my presentation shed light onto the topic of art therapy. One very famous artist who I feel a deep connection with is Edvard Munch. We both have the same muse. Empathy. We also have something else in common. We have a sibling with schizophrenia.
Edvard is most well known for his painting (seen above), The Scream. Painted in 1893, The Scream represents the anxiety of modern man. With this painting, Moonk met his stated goal of “the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self”. Moonk wrote of how the painting came to be: "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black water. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad…You know my picture, ‘’The Scream?’’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

Edvard was the second of five children (I also am the second of five children). He was only five years old when his mother died of tuberculosis. Nine years later, his oldest sister, Sophie died from the same illness. The loss of his sister affected Munch so much that she became a frequent theme in his work. His painting, The Sick Child (seen below), is an image of Sophie as she lay dying in bed. From this painting, you can sense the empathy one brother felt for his dying sister. When I saw this painting, I was reminded of how I felt when I painted, Psychosis (also seen below). Of all my paintings, this one means the most to me because it represents how I feel when I witness my brother's psychosis. I will never forget the blank look in his eyes as I tried to convince him that the bombs (he thought were about to land on us) were not real. This was the first time my family witnessed a psychosis of that intensity. 

We were in a hotel room, three hours from home and my parents did the only thing they felt was right. They drove three hours home at four in the morning (we stayed in a hotel because we were out of town for my oldest sister's wedding). About two hours into their trip, my brother convinced them to pull into a rest stop. He was convinced that my husband and I were in danger (we were still at the hotel) of being hit by a bomb. My brother proceeded to flee the car and run up the shoulder of the thruway only inches from moving cars. My father chased after him. It's amazing what adrenaline allowed my father to do. He caught up with my brother and remove his shoes. Just as someone was watching over my brother in Italy (when his first episode hit), someone gave my father the strength and quick thinking to save my brother from being hit by the cars traveling at 75 miles per hour. My parents went straight the hospital but were turned away because my brother popped a pill in his mouth. I still think my brother should have been allowed a long hospital stay. My parents felt helpless. I started to get used to these unthinkable stories. It's just part of the disease and you have no choice but to get used to it. Now, back to Munch.

Munch endured two more family tragedies. First his younger sister developed schizophrenia, then his brother Andreas died. Munch suffered a nervous breakdown (most likely triggered by constant, family tragedy) and was admitted to a clinic where he received electric shock treatment and spent several months recovering. His response to recovery: "I would not cast off my illness for there is much in my art that I owe to it." Some think his art lost its edge after he was released from the hospital. 

Edvard Munch's art allows us to understand how anxiety, loneliness and empathy can affect the human psyche. Before Edvard Munch passed away, he said," From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity." To many this may seem like a disturbing or morbid thing to say, but I think it shows how an individual can acknowledge his purpose in life. I hope this inspires others to leave their own impression. To me, life has no purpose if I lack passion. Art is my passion, voice and purpose. People ask me why am I always creating. I tell them that it is like a hunger and at times an obsession. Without it, I am not happy and now, I have found a way to use art as a tool (to educate). When words are sometimes ignored, art can speak volumes, without even saying a word. 


  1. Hi AC,

    Well, after an ill-fated two e-mails between myself and an aunt, I had to stop corresponding with her. She told my mother that she had cured herself of schizophrenia and that people didn't need to take meds to do so.

    In one of our e-mails a couple years ago, she wrote, "Your psychosis was evident when you came to visit us when you were 12 years old. You sat at the edge of the bed like a figure in an Edvard Munch painting."

    So, in other words, I was psychotic ever since I was 12 years old? And if I was, I shouldn't be given medication?

    Trust me, that was the last time I saw this aunt [when I was 12], and after our last e-mail, I did a slow fade. She wrote me a letter once in response to a poem I wrote that was published in a book, and sure enough, she included in the letter her own poem about how "medication is a crutch."

    Really now.


  2. It amazes me how people can make pass judgement on your mental health if they aren't in your head or experiencing what you are feeling. These are all assumptions. That's like saying, "your tumor isn't getting bigger, you just think it is". Seriously. I my experience, the family members who push away my bro's diagnosis and treatment, are the ones who have a similar mental issue. They feel that if they survive without meds, so can he. I have family members who are in denial and therefor, tell my bro he needs hypnosis, not meds. I am sure if he had cancer or diabetes that they would support chemo or insulin. People need to realize that every mental disorder varies in severity, etc. Unfortunately, shame and fear can cloud one's judgement.

  3. Chris,
    One last thing, your aunt sounds very similar to my aunt. I know how you feel.

  4. I love the idea of using art as a tool to educate. I am not an artist. I am, however, fairly good with words. The way you described Munch's pictures was heartwarming. I liked the part where he was on his death bed. What beautiful prophecy.

    I found your blog through schizophreniaconnection.

  5. earlyriser,
    Thank you for checking out my blog and for your kind words. It is nice to hear that others are embracing the arts:)