Long due, the present piece of writing desires to deal with the darker corners of the human mind, haunted by insanity and disorder, flawed by destructive impulses as much as by harmful inspiration. Therefore, I have chosen five works of art painted by well-known artists, in the hope that the following lines will simplify your journey through their intricate streets and alleys. My hope is that, at the end of the article, I will have managed to awaken the curiosity of the reader for this specific topic due to my modest offering of crumbs, because there's a long way till the entire loaf of bread is gone.
Self-harm and the natural disorder of troubled art-Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)
Refusing to face the viewer and, at the same time, refusing to face himself, Van Gogh stares at the disguised void floating around, enshrouded in a cloak bearing the resemblance of a room, intangible and impersonal. The large bandage on the right side of his head acts like a constant reminder of the unseen intruder able to take control over a man's volition. The painting speaks of countless struggles to conquer the artistic world, of unfulfilled desires and rough paths to self-discovery, all in vain when it comes to surrendering in front of mental troubles. The artist is defeated by his own self and against his own will.
The horn of plentiful madness: Netherlandish Proverbs (1559)
So, what is topsy-turvy, after all? The detail that strikes the eye, though, is the shared expression on the people's visage. The twisted countenance turns the human heads into simple shells for madness, where folly is queen and its subjects take part in a tragicomic play. The element which caught my attention when I first saw the painting was the globe with the upside-down cross. Therefore, we have been warned: there's nothing depicted in the painting which follows the norm. I have also found the image to be good food for thought and analysis, apart from the element of disturbing grotesque, and one can easily engage in a game of guess-the-proverb.
Cannibalism in a nutshell: Saturn Devouring his Son (1819–1823)
Goya'a painting does not represent the mere illustration of a myth. Compared to other depictions, this one shows Saturn on the brink of despair mingled with madness. Wide-eyed with apparent fear, he takes large bites in order to bring the abominable act to an end. There is a look of absence on his countenance with respect to the outside world, as he lives in his own sealed box, haunted by insecurities and devoid of empathy. We know that Goya wanted to be more than the illustrator of a myth and therefore his painting speaks of the horrors encountered at wartime, where people are killed for absurd reasons.
Ersatz insanity and the quest for nothingness: Cutting the Stone (c. 1494)
The question to arise is 'Who is the madman here?' The doctor, who wears a funnel as a hat and definitely has no skills for operating on a patient which, by all means, does not need surgery because there is nothing to be cured? Or, perhaps, the two 'assistants', the foolish side of religion and doctrine? The ludic side of the painting is, perhaps, aimed at mocking useless customs along the line of the Latin proverb Castigat ridendo mores (Laughing corrects morals).
Murder as a consequence of mental instability: Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan: November 16, 1581 (1885)
The bloodstained figures, rising like two ghosts from an untold war, are clasped together for one more time, in a macabre embrace. Both father and son used to be extremely well-read but cruel, and Repin's painting erases any differences there might have existed between the two, mingling all ranges of emotions in two bodies that finally look like one.