On the Verge of Insanity- Melancholy

For the first time the Amsterdam van Gogh Museum is featuring an exhibition on the illness of Vincent van Gogh. Annex a symposium will be held. In itself this is remarkable. The Museum has through the decades been rather vague and silent about van Gogh's insanity. Meanwhile others have debated and studied the issue of the artist's illness. Now the Museum plans to decide the issue. In a closed session art historians and medical experts will finally decide on the diagnosis of the artist. Is it possible and indeed ethically sound to diagnose a patient whom the respective medical experts have never seen? At the symposium several 21st century diagnoses are under examination. NONE OF THE EXPERTS IS LISTENING TO WHAT THE PATIENT HAD TO SAY. Listening to the patient is an essential part of any psychiatric diagnosis. Vincent van Gogh was obsessed by what was for centuries considered a serious mood disorder: MELANCHOLY. His letters show more than 100 hits for the word melancholy from 1873 until 1890 just before his death. There are myriad references in his letters to ailments and complaints associated with melancholy. So the museum and its experts seem to be skipping the one diagnosis the artist himself was worried about. MELANCHOLY. Just because melancholy is today no longer a medical term. In Vincent's time however melancholy was taken as a serious (two poled) mood disorder, on which his last doctor Gachet was an expert. These essays elaborating on Melancholy are in honor of Vincent van Gogh and his suffering.

Diagnosing Vincent van Gogh

If only he's not melancholy and heading for another crisis, Theo to his wife 20 July 1890.....In his letters Vincent van Gogh complained time and again - from his early years to just before his tragic death - of 'melancholy' then a medical term for serious depression alternated by high mood. Vincent discussed this illness with other fellow sufferers, including his close family. His last Docter, Gachet, had written a thesis on melancholy, and was according to the artist, , a fellow sufferer. ............................................................................ ....

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Aristotle ON MELANCHOLY

left: Ajax preparing for suicide - right: Manic Hercules by Antonio Canova Aristotle's essay ON MELANCHOLY begins with the famous question: 'Why do all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts turn out to be melancholics ?' Aristotle describes the two poles of melancholy, which can become very hot and very cold. He warns talented and sensitive persons. 'If they are not careful, they can become extremely melancholic.' Extreme mood can lead to tragedy. Aristotle mentions the hero Ajax whose life ended in suicide. He points to Hercules, who murdered his own family in a bout of mania. The Greek philosopher urges talented persons to avoid extremes, if need be with medicine. 'If their melaina cholè is tempered, they are men of genius.' It is in the mildly elated mood, today known as hypomania, that creativity gets a chance. This classic essay on creativity and mood is surprisingly relevant today. With the explanations by philosopher Marlies ter Borg the staccato comments by Aristotle gain in depth and meaning. Download below! - also available in paperback USA - UK or EUROPE ....

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The Melancholy Pose

Rodin's Thinker with his back to van Gogh's Dr Gachet, both depicted in the melancholy pose. Rodin stares downwards into hel. Dr Gachet was considered by Vincent to be at least as melancholic as he and his brother Theo were. marliesterborg@gmail.com ....

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Melancholy in Classic and Biblical Literature

Ajax killed by his own sword The tormented David by Bernini Genius tormented by moodswing is explored here for both our classical and biblical traditions. Sheperd king David figures side by side with Ajax and Hercules. Wording might differ but the issues are similar, reminiscent of what today is called manic-depression or bipolar disorder. Read more ....

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On the Verge of Insanity at the van Gogh Museum

The first ever symposium on the illness of Vincent van Gogh took place at the van Gogh Museum 10 years ago. It was the first and up to now only meeting between art historians, patients and psychiatrists. Read the presentaion by philosopher/patient Marlies ter Borg on Kay Redfield Jamison, van Gogh's dr Gachet and Arisotle. May 2006 ....

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