Recently I re-watched the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” This time around, I was struck by the character of Vincent Van Gogh's depression and suffering. The portrayal resonated with me and I began reading up on Van Gogh's life and struggles. While I knew the generalities of Van Gogh's history, I had never delved too deep into his emotional and mental hardships.
Today, Vincent Van Gogh is seen as one of the greatest artists of all time but during his life his often erratic behavior caused many to think him mad, for lack of a better term. Given what we know today, it is likely he had some type of mental illness. But what type of mental illness did Van Gogh actually have?
Van Gogh was no doubt an incredible talent but his mental issues often caused him a great deal of strife. There have been many different theories surrounding Van Gogh's mental health. According to the book, Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists, previous diagnoses for Van Gogh's condition have not been based on medical evidence, but instead on his life and works. Neurologist Anthony Corrota claims, he had "bipolar disorder, affective or schizoaffective" (Corota, 2005).
Van Gogh's case for bipolar disorder is quite strong, given his extremes highs, including prolific creativity, erratic and impulsive behavior and equally extreme lows which included severe depression, outbursts, and psychotic episodes, including cutting of part of his ear (Cororta, 2005). His lifestyle of drugs and drinking may have exacerbated his condition, and also caused him to experience seizures as well as paranoid delusions (Rosenik, 2008). Van Gogh's art displays the extreme emotions he felt. His use of color represents those emotions with great effect. Much of his artwork is full of bright colors, especially yellow, and shows the beauty of nature, such as Sunflowers and the famous Starry Night, which showed the beauty of light against the darkness. But he also used browns and darker tones to show decay or death like in the ominous Wheatfield with Crows.
While it is impossible to truly diagnose Van Gogh's illness, his mental health seemed to be what caused his tragic end. Despite his troubled life, Vincent Van Gogh was an incredible artist who used both his extreme suffering and ecstasy to create some of the greatest art the world has ever known.
Article originally posted on Psych2go.net in 2016.
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