Nicholas Baxter

Art From The Edge

My friend Addie over at Fuck Yeah Mad Pride clued me in to a fascinating blog featuring the art of people considered to be in extreme mental states, called Art From The Edge. Having made some art in years past while in some of these natural, non drug-related “edge states” I find this blog incredibly interesting, and it should be relevant to anyone addressing issues surrounding mental health in our society, or dealing with their own mental health issues.

I can’t help but think of the recent Sandy Hook school shooting in my original home state of Connecticut, which recently brought these issues to the forefront of a national debate.  Did the perpetrator of this unnecessary tragedy have a nonviolent, creative form of self expression–such as visual art–as an outlet? Could future massacres be prevented with more awareness of edge states and the role that creating art can play in diffusing and communicating difficult emotions?

One glance through my paintings, with their intense nature, and one could easily conclude what I already know firsthand: how effective and therapeutic creating art indeed is.

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 Included on the Art From The Edge blog is a beautiful explanation of its purpose and conceptual background, to which I would only do a disservice in trying to paraphrase with my own awkward writing style, so here it is:

Art from the Edge, a virtual gallery and resource center by the creators of the Serious Mental Illness blog, is a blog dedicated to art created in and about extreme mental states. It is an open and public world wide forum for artists to share their visual and written works and their personal stories with all those interested in the connection between creativity and “edge” states.

Much like art, which exists in a multitude of mediums and forms of expression, there are a plurality of “edge” states that inspire the artists who harbor them. For this reason, we leave the term completely open to our community’s interpretation, knowing from research and experience that this state could be driven by psychosis or trauma, or an altered state induced by drugs. It could be the offshoot of extreme depression or grief, or the aftermath of a spiritual or mystical state of consciousness. Ultimately, we are interested in the artist’s individual experience and in his or her sense of what it is that drove the creative act.

The link between creativity and extreme states was first discussed by Aristotle who said that “There never has been a genius without a touch of madness.” Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, was the first to give this link a public platform by assembling a large collection of psychiatric art in the 1880s. He claimed that “Genius is one of the many forms of insanity” (Seldes, 1996, p. 102). A now substantial and ever-growing body of research is empirically verifying the strong connection between mental illness and creativity (Waddell, 1997).

Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, the quintessential mad artist, experienced prolonged episodes of depression and possibly psychosis, spent considerable amounts of time in psychiatric facilities, and famously cut off his ear. The life and works of Van Gogh, as well as those of Sylvia Plath, Jackson Pollock, Martín Ramírez, Ludwig van Beethoven, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Judy Garland, Robert Schumann, a few among many, suggest that creative genius is often accompanied by extreme mental states.

Art from the Edge does not assume that all art has its roots in extreme states, nor does it champion the idea that all artists experience or have experienced extreme states. Its main purpose is to be a place for such art to be appreciated and for such artists to be heard––on their own terms.

 

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My 2010 painting Progression Through Unlearning (oil on panel, 12 x 12in) features the symbolism of scars and tangled audio tape to represent the personal struggle to overcome internalized negative messages received during childhood.