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The Hidden Mysteries of Art: A Glimpse Into Mental Illness

With the ability to distort and manipulate behavior and the body, drugs hold prominence amongst some artists in their work.

In recent years, there has been a great surge in the use of pharmaceutical drugs around the nation. Such drugs, whether they be prescription or over-the-counter, often have the ability to distort and have alternate effects on the human body if used incorrectly. From cough syrup to methamphetamine, overdosing and abusing such drugs may result in a variety of symptoms – violent or aggressive behavior, dilated pupils, unconsciousness, or even death. However, although drug overdoses can severely impact an individual’s life for the worse, they have the power to improve our scientific understanding of unique mental disorders. In other words, certain drugs – when overdosed – mimic the effect of certain disorders on the human mind. One such drug, which can be found in hospitals worldwide, is Ketamine.

Photo from Unsplash

Ketamine is dissociative anesthetic that is used in hospitals to start and maintain anesthesia. The drug induces patients into a trace-like state, similar to hypnosis, and puts them to sleep during surgery. However, just like other drugs, Ketamine is accessible on the streets as well. In fact, Ketamine is quite popular in the streets as “K”, “Special K”,  or even “Super Acid” (1). When taken in excessive amounts, Ketamine not only induces pain relief and sedation, but also psychosis, which disconnects an individual from the real world. Psychosis, which is caused by Schizophrenia, impairs a person’s thoughts and emotion’s to the point where they are unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy (2).

Such depictions, where the audience is left in awe and confusion, is prominent in many historical paintings. Perhaps, you’ve seen Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, which is a painting that depicts Van Gogh’s view from the window of his asylum room or The Olive Trees, which depicts his view of the garden in his asylum. Although these two paintingsportray different views, they have one common thread; they illustrate deformities in color, light, and imagery. It is noteworthy to indicate that although Van Gogh’s illness has never been thoroughly understood, he did suffer from severe depression and severe bipolar disorder – a combination that is so complex that it induces the same symptoms as Schizophrenia. While taking account of Van Gogh’s illness, the distortions in his paintings shed light on those who suffer from Schizophrenia, Depression and Psychosis.

It has been widely acknowledged that artists often pour their values, emotions, and thoughts into their work. In Van Gogh’s case, it is evident that Van Gogh experienced feelings of isolation, desperation, helplessness, and frustration. It sheds light on the effects of psychiatric disorders on humans – creating hallucinations, voices, and intense chaos in one’s mind – that are often uncontrollable.

Photo from MoMA, New York

Even though many may believe that Van Gogh’s painting was completely planned out and executed with precision, it seems as if it was quite the opposite; the canvas was his opportunity to relive himself of his frustrations and show others how he views the real world. His use of oil-painting to create scenes that showcase disturbance and confusion depict how those who suffer from mental illnesses see the world.

And so, many scientists and researchers are better able to understand the life of Schizophrenics via artwork. Artwork provides others with a better tool to understand what those with mental illnesses go through and how to provide better forms of therapy for them. Although doctors may not necessarily relate with their experiences, it is evident that the mysterious choices of artists in their artwork reveal so much more about their own well-being. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words!”


(1) www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/ketamine.html

(2) https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis

(3) Van Gogh, Vincent. The Starry Night. 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York. MoMA, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79802. Accessed 12 June 2018.

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