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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS:

CAN PSYCHOLOGISTS IDENTIFY MENTAL ILLNESS IN ART?

Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the

California School of Forensic Studies


Alliant International University
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Forensic Psychology
by

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Ashley Mowrey
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Approved by:
Joanna Pashdag, Ph.D., Chairperson
Arinn Testa, Psy.D.
ProQuest Number: 3728460

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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS ii

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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS iii

Acknowledgments

I would like to give my wholehearted and absolute appreciation to my chair Dr.

Joanna Pashdag. Without her patience, guidance, and unrelenting support this could not have

been possible. Her enthusiasm for novel ideas and concepts that push the boundaries of what

is conventional within psychology gave me the motivation to continue pushing through this

prolonged process. I would also like to also thank Dr. Arinn Testa for her feedback and

positivity throughout this endeavor. Her optimism and tranquility has inspired me to

maintain balance and keep composure in times of stress.

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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS iv

Abstract

This study investigated the diagnostic accuracy of clinical judgment in regard to

projective resources. Additionally, it aimed to provide insight into the perspective of

psychologists with differing theoretical orientations; by illustrating the importance of

theoretical orientation and the view of the client, it focused on broadening the literature

regarding nuances in theoretical perspectives and the consequential interpretation of the

client and their mental illnesses. Using the artwork of individuals diagnosed with a mental

illness, this study examined psychologists abilities to identify mental illness in artwork.

Furthermore, this study examined characteristics that psychologists felt were indicative of

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mental illness and provided insight into how psychologists of different theoretical weigh

these characteristics for diagnostic purposes. This study found that psychologists in general
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were unable to differentiate between artists with mental illness and those without, and that
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when cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic and humanistic psychologists were compared,

there were no significant differences in their ability to make such differentiation. There was

also no statistically significant difference generally among psychologists of different


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orientation in regard to which aesthetic qualities they used to make such differentiation,

although Humanistic and Psychodynamic psychologists were slightly more likely than

Cognitive Behavioral psychologists to use the aesthetic quality of Logic.


DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS v

Table of Contents

Page

List of Appendices....................................................................................................................V

List of Images..........................................................................................................................VI

Acknowledgments.................................................................................................................VII

Abstract..................................................................................................................................VII

I: Introduction.........................................................................................................................1

II: Literature Review..............................................................................................................6

III: Methodology...................................................................................................................38

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IV: Results..............................................................................................................................48
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V. Discussion..........................................................................................................................53

References..............................................................................................................................63
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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS vi

List of Appendices

Appendix A: Artists Consent Form.......................................................................................76

Appendix B: Psychologists Consent form.............................................................................78

Appendix C: Revised Scale...................................................................................................80

Appendix D: Aesthetic Qualities Likert Scale.......................................................................83

Appendix E: DAPA Scale......................................................................................................85

Appendix F: FEATS Scale.....................................................................................................89

Appendix G: Recruitment Flyer for Artists...........................................................................94

Appendix H: Recruitment Flyer for Psychologists................................................................99

Appendix I: Artists Paintings...............................................................................................101

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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGSvii vii

List of Images

Figure 1.................................................................................................................................102

Figure 2.................................................................................................................................102

Figure 3.................................................................................................................................103

Figure 4.................................................................................................................................103

Figure 5.................................................................................................................................104

Figure 6.................................................................................................................................104

Figure 7.................................................................................................................................105

Figure 8.................................................................................................................................105

Figure 9.................................................................................................................................105

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Figure 10...............................................................................................................................106
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DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS 1

CHAPTER I

Introduction

Works of art have an objective actuality, simultaneously retaining their subjective

existence through which we enter via our own observations. Mental aberrations provide

access to internal authenticities of experience and core truths (Spaniol, 2001). We become

inhibited by our own perceptions; our elucidations therefore become a consequence of our

reactions to our experience of artwork. Akin to what Porter (2002) mentions in his book, A

Brief History of Madness, this study asserts that we lack an objective method of describing

or conveying clinical findings without subjective interpretation we lack the universal

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terminology to convey concepts in a generalizable and precise way to all. Our knowledge,
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regardless of the data provided, is subjective solely based on the individuality in which we

perceive and interpret what we read and experience. Research is deeply flawed, if the
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ultimate goal is to be purely objective, because each individual has their own filter through

which they process the objective data.


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Research into the validity of projective tests is extensive (Dalley & Case, 1992;

Groth-Marnat, 2009; Oster & Crone, 2004; Rubin, 2001; Ulman & Levy, 2001), but

projective testing lacks a foundational theory. Although disjointed, evidence does exist for

the use of projective tests, but there is no single theory that underpins them all. Additionally,

clinical judgment is a key variable in the scoring and effectiveness of projective tests. What

is lacking in this field is evidence that measures the accuracy and extent to which clinical

judgment can be an objective scoring tool in subjective testing.

Beyond projective testing, a large scope of client data comes from personal artifacts

(e.g. clinical history, behaviors, work produced) and artwork has been historically viewed as

a human artifact rich in unconscious meaning and symbolism. Persons with mental illness
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may have significant artistic potential (Benjamin, 2008). There has been the supposition that

those with mental illness are able to portray a raw and unhindered representation of their

inner senses, allowing them to create images that sane persons would not be able to; the

artwork of those with mental illness are thought to have qualities that represent the

underlying mental illness. According to Beveridge (2001), at the beginning of the nineteenth

century, two movements ignited interest in the artwork of those with mental illness, the

Romantic Movement and the initiation of asylums madness during the romantic period

was deemed an honored condition and those with mental illness were the bearers of the

ultimate truth. Biographies of artists with mental illness have been cited in historical

literature, and have been based on anecdotes from the artists themselves, witness accounts of

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their irrational behavior(s), or theories from scholars who use the aforementioned sources
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as the basis of their theories.

Written accounts from prominent artists have been largely anecdotal, but currently
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trends in research have indicated that there are higher than chance correlations between

creativity, components of creativity, and mental illness (Jamison, 1995). Additionally, some
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studies have identified traits in artists that parallel the characteristics of those with bipolar

disorders and depression (Andreasen, 2005; Benjamin, 2007; Jamison, 1993; Runco &

Richards, 1997)

An established correspondence between creativity and mental illness provides

incentive to investigate whether the artwork of mentally ill persons differs from those who

are not mentally ill and what distinguishing factors differentiate the two. Psychological

issues drive acts of creativity and more often than not, artists are not consciously aware of

these issues or conflicts (Panter, Panter, Virshup, & Virshup, 1995). Rogers position was

that the difference between fantasy, as in dreams, and art, is that dreams are almost pure

primary process and art a combination of primary and secondary process (Rogers, 1978;


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Spaniol, 2001). Artwork provides clinicians with insight into the contextual framework of

their clients unconscious and allows access to repressed, denied, or malingered information.

In fact, Benjamin (2007) believes that the repression of artistic inclinations in someone with

a predisposition to divulge their unconscious through the medium of art will result in the

development of a mental illness. Clinical judgment is inherent in the scoring and

interpretation of projective tests, and providing quantifiable evidence in support of the

accuracy and applicability of clinical judgment regarding the appearance of mental illness in

art would provide the field of projective testing with a reputable tool by which test data and

client artifacts might be accurately scored and interpreted.

A critical issue in evaluating the usefulness of projective methods in forensic settings

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is their inability to identify response sets, including malingering (Hersen, 2004). Court
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opinions are biased against projective tests, defending their inadmissibility in court on their

inability to reliably and validly identify mental illness. In as the case of Wordsworth Irving
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v. State of Florida (1998), for example, the defendant appealed their conviction on the

grounds that the judge has wrongly allowed clinical judgment into the testimony, judgment
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that was based on projective tests that did not hold up to the Frye standard. The case was

reversed until the projective tests could be subjected to testing to indicate whether they met

the Frye standard of objectivity. The objectivity of scoring systems appears to be an illusion;

the value in projective measures resides in clinical procedures and judgment (Oster & Gould,

2004). The complication is that the subjectivity inherent in any interpretation of any

projective test ultimately means that no projective tests can be used in court without

providing the opposition an opening to lodge a potentially valid objection. What is missing

is empirical validation of a clinicians ability to interpret subjective data, so that

theinterpretation of subjective data via projective testing can be upheld under various

standards as admissible in court. There is an insufficient amount of data examining


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psychologists ability to accurately score and interpret projective test data, as well as an

overall lack of confidence in their ability to judge mental illness through examination of

nonverbal information such as artwork.

A reasonable argument against the use of clinical judgment is the subjectivity of

interpretation (Grove, 2000; Grove, 2005; Hallbower, 1955; Meehl, 1995; Meehl, 1957 );

this subjectivity is based upon the clinicians view of pathology and how people exhibit

symptoms of it. The subjectivity of interpretation may be thought of as a product of a

clinicians theoretical orientation. Theoretical orientation may moderate the interpretation of

projective test data and client artifacts. It is known that a psychologists theoretical

orientation is a personal choice dependent upon how they conceptualize their clients

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(Poznanski & Mclennan, 2003), how they convey themselves in their work with clients, and
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indicates the type of lens through which they interpret mental illness (Beutler, Malik,

Alimohamed, Harwood, Talebi, Noble, & Wong, 2004; Heinonen, & Orlinsky, 2013; Messer
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& Gurman, 2011). Research indicates that which theoretical orientation a psychologist picks

is based upon personal characteristicsthe way these characteristics play-out in therapy is


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seen in their approach to clients, their beliefs about pathology, and their methods in

treatment (Murdock, Banta, Stromesth, Viene & Brown, 1998; Ogunfowora & Drapeau,

2008). Therefore, it can be argued that any material pertaining to the client would be

construed differently based upon the psychologists theoretical orientation.

This present study asks whether psychologists are able to diagnose mental illness in

artwork. The study also introduces the notion that clinicians theoretical orientation affects

their accuracy in diagnosis. This study was conducted to examine the supposition that

regardless of the method of interpretation, there is a degree of intuition inherent in the people

who go into the profession of psychology that provides psychologists with the ability to

identify mental illness in nonverbal artifacts. Furthermore, it is the supposition of this study


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that theoretical orientation will mediate the accuracy of diagnosis; that is, in comparison to

orientations grounded in the clients subjective experience, psychologists with objectively

based theoretical orientations will have a lower accuracy rate when attempting to diagnose

mental illness from artwork.

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CHAPTER II

Literature Review

This chapter will review the relevant literature pertaining to the development and use

of artwork as evidence in identifying mental illness in persons. In doing so, the motivation

for this proposed project will be supported. The first portion of this chapter will focus on

historical references to the mental illness of artists; it will cite art historians interpretations

of artists works and their impressions of how and what the artwork was portraying about the

artist. Secondly, this chapter will address literature supporting the connection between art

and mental health. Thirdly, this chapter will connect artwork with projective testing and

illustrate the importance of projective tests in the field of forensic psychology. Lastly,

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theoretical orientation will be investigated to illustrate how the differences between
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perspectives on mental illness influence how psychologists use artwork as a diagnostic tool.

Why Artwork?
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What is creativity? The definition itself creates a foundation for this study; art should

be considered a critically relevant portion of client artifacts and tool for diagnosis. According
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to Panter (1995), creativity is the ability to bring something new into existence it is the

world seen in a new way by being filtered through the eyes of the artist. According to Plato,

creativity is divine madness a gift from the gods (Plato, 1952, p. 129). Throughout

history, the perceptions of artists and non-artists alike has been that art is somehow tied to

the artists psychology, that it comes from within and creates an externally visual

representation of their inner beings. Similar to Freuds (1908) perspective, creativity is not

limited to conscious effort; creativity takes place in the unconscious (Halsey, 1977). Spaniol

(2001) stated, in regards to an artist, that her approach to creativity was an

amalgamation of conscious, intentional planning with spontaneous,

automatic associations. Overall, Spaniol found that the creative processes of most of


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artists varied, and at the same time, a pattern in the use of blending of intention with intuition

was found to be somewhat consistent amongst artists.

This study was undertaken with the contention that the objective and

psychometrically restrained procedures used for identifying the minute complexities that are

experienced by diagnosticians in their everyday practice are inept. According to Lally

(2003), who surveyed what psychological tests experts consider acceptable, 81% of experts

stated that projective tests were unacceptable to use in forensic evaluations. Due to the low

level of favorability for the use of projective tests, there is a need for literature designed to

develop more suitable, sensitive projective assessment measures. Advancement of the field

of projective testing requires defined and accepted reliable scoring categories (Hacking &

Foreman, 2001).
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One step in this process is to identify whether psychologists have a significant ability

to diagnose the presence of mental illness in individuals by examination of their artwork, and
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if so, whether accuracy varies depending upon the theoretical orientation. The quantification

of psychologists ability would provide evidence regarding the validity of clinical judgment
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in the interpretation of subjective client materials. Essentially, the ability to quantify

judgment will allow clinicians to surmise data without attempting to standardize a rating

scale that is seemingly impossible given the numerous variables that go into subjective and

unconscious data. If a trait or ability in psychologists could be identified, one that allows

them to accurately identify mental illness in projective data such as artwork, then the validity

of their interpretations of projective assessment data would be increased. An increase in the

validity of clinical judgment in regards to projective testing would allow projective tests to

Art Therapy

According to Oster and Crone (2004), the quantification of psychometrically sound

procedures cannot account for the unique, personal expression of inner experiences.


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Physicians trained and practicing in art therapy appreciate the unveiling of a clients

functioning through interpretation of work collected via art based interventions. Client

artwork has the advantage of being interpreted by practiced clinicians, who look for patterns

that elucidate latent material that may be out of current awareness of the client and therefore

unable to be picked up by objective tests. The use of drawings assists the clinician in

making informed assessments and increases their diagnostic validity that is individualized to

clients specialized needs. These pieces of art represent symbolic demonstrations of the

personalitys constituent aspects, revealing drives, needs, and impulses.

Oster and Gould (2004) cited evidence from Gumaer (1984), who noted from his

experience in diagnostic work that someone who is defensive will display their lack of

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spontaneity in drawings by creating monotonous reproductions or preferring to trace rather
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than draw. This is one example of numerous incidents of overlapping themes and aesthetic

qualities correlating with specific characteristics, diagnosis, and behaviors.


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Historical Reference to Art and Mental Illness

Aristotle opined (as cited in Hershman & Lieb, 1998, p.8), All extraordinary men
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distinguished in philosophy, politics, poetry and the arts are evidently melancholic. Plato

described four types of divine madness: poetic, prophetic, ritual, and erotic (Plato, 1952).

Since the 1900s, the notion of artwork as a representation of an artists mental status has

been illuminated in popular literature. Nordau, a German physician from the 1900s,

perceived cultural products such as music and painting to be the symptoms of disease

(DeLue, 2007). Nordau made a correlation between colors and diagnosis. For example,

Nordau believed that purple was linked with melancholia this color association provided

inspiration that other scientists sought to prove or disprove. Hartman, a critic and poet, took

inspiration from Nordau and applied this concept to impressionist artwork, stating that

greatness of the art might be a function of sight or minds not fully well (Delue, 2007).


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In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the association between mental illness and

creativity gained currency as poets such as William Blake, Lord Byron, and Lord Tennyson

described their extreme mood swings (Jamison, 1995). As records have been easier to obtain

on the health histories of famous artists, more contemporary artists have been linked to a

history of hospitalizations for various mood disorders. Painters such as Van Gogh, OKeefe,

and Goya are some examples of well-known artists with substantiated mental illnesses

(Jamison, 1995). Additionally, Jamison examined biographical studies of artists and writers

and foundf an incidence of 18 times the rate of suicide, depression, and manic-depression

(bipolar illness) than is seen in the general population.

According to Winnicott, cited in Levine (1997), creativity is an expression of vitality,

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life energy, and an integration of pieces of the creative persons existence. Creative action,
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according to Winnicott, is an action that stems from the creativity of being itself. A notable

study examined expanded the definition of creativity to encompass both those considered
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artistic and those who are not considered artists but still create art. The emergence of this

notion led researchers to investigate the associations of the creative process in ordinary (non-
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artist) individuals (Makali, Glksz & Oral, 2013).

A problem arises when writers speak to the interpretation of artwork in regards to

mental illness. According to Spitz (as cited in Person, Cooper & Gabbard, 2005, p. 501),

when a writer interprets art of the past, there is rarely any interpersonal context for evolving

transferences; consequently their interpretations lack an intersubjective validation

fundamental to clinical practice. Spitz illustrates a battle between practicing psychoanalysis

and nonclinical academic authors, whom the former have often perceived as superficial and

hyperintellectual when they use psychoanalytic theories as a way of describing their

interpretation of artwork.

In the early nineteen hundreds, Surrealism was beginning to form. Surrealist artists,


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while forming this stylistic divergence from traditional painting methods and content, were

influenced by Sigmund Freuds concept of the unconscious. Similar to the Romantic period,

mental illness or madness was glorified and upheld as a higher state of being, sometimes

perceived as being the ultimate form of elucidation, clairvoyance, and a way to see beyond

the confines of what was then the bourgeois class (Beveridge, 2001). What follows are

examples of art critics presumptions of the mental illness of known artists, as well as a brief

description of biographical data that corresponds to the evidence of mental illness that critics

have found in their artworks.

Vincent Van Gogh. Richard Jed Wyatt of the National Institute of Mental Health has

argued that Van Goghs symptoms, the natural course of his illness, and his family

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psychiatric history strongly indicate manic-depressive illness (Jamison & Wyatt, 1991). The
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evidence includes the nature of Van Gogh's psychiatric symptoms (extreme mood changes,

including long periods of depression and extended episodes of highly active, volatile and
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excited states, altered sleep patterns, hyperreligiosity, extreme irritability, visual and auditory

hallucinations, violence, agitation, and alcohol abuse), the age of onset of his symptoms, his
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premorbid personality, the cyclic nature of his attacks, and his family history of suicide and

psychiatric illness (Jamison, 1993; Bhattacharyya & Rai, 2015). In letters to his brother

Theo, Vincent wrote, My youth was gloomy, cold and sterile (Parke, 2010, p. 70). Vincent

himself suffered from hallucinations and delusions, his brother had a psychotic episode

within several months of Vincents death, his sister spent 50 years of her life in an asylum,

and his mother was thought to have suffered from depression (Panter, Panter, Virshup &

Virshup, 1995; Sheon, 1983). Of his time in the psychiatric hospital St Rmy, Vincent wrote

The horror I had of madness before, greatly softened (Parke, 2010, p. 114).

Many writers have identified patterns in the stylistic differences amongst Van

Goghs paintings, parallel to what are thought to be the cycles of his manic and hypomanic


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episodes. Bogousslavsky and Boller (2005) assumed that Van Gogh might have had suffered

from bipolar disorder since he had been exhibiting phases of intense activity followed by

periods of extreme exhaustion and depression. Jamison (1993) looked at Van Goghs

paintings during different months of the year and identified a seasonal pattern. She stated

that the summer peak in productivity is consistent with what we know about his own

description of his frenzied moods and energy during those months of the year. Furthermore,

she stated that in November and Febuary, his images depicted the progression of Van Gogh

from a depressive state into a mixed state in December and January. Jamison and Wyatt

(1991) found that Van Gogh created the most paintings in June and July, giving evidence to

the cyclical nature of Van Goghs depression and the impact it had on his productivity.

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Van Goghs styles of paintings changed within the context of his relationships; as
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relationships formed his work became more vivid and intense and as his relationships ended

his paintings became dark. After his separation from Sien, a prostitute Vincent fell in love
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with, he transitioned from pen and ink to oils and his work turned dark in color and dreary in

mood this is considered by some to be a expression of his sadness and pessimism from the
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breakup (Panter et al., 1995). Within the first six months of the death of Vincents father, he

painted The Potato Eaters, a masterpiece that depicted a sad and hopeless family (Panter et

al., 1995).

Van Goghs relationship with Gauguin has been interpreted as the most influential in

his works. After Gauguin moved in with Van Gogh, according to Panter and colleagues, his

works began to suggest latent homosexuality in Vincents behavior toward Gauguin (Panter

et al., 1995). In Vincents Chair, the chair is described as strong and masculine, while in

Gauguins Chair, the chair is described as soft, curved, and being accompanied by a flaming

candle signs of femininity (Panter et al., 1995).


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Inner conflicts and desires have been seen in Vincents works. According to Panter

and his colleagues, Starry Night expressed Van Goghs turmoil and frenzy to maintain sanity

(Panter et al., 1995). They depicted Van Goghs illness as being exemplified in the clutching

branches of the cypress trees he painted this was an expression of Van Goghs fear and

longing. Also, considering Vincents use of the medication digitalis, a theory that is still

posited is that the side effects of digitalis poisoning yellowing of the vision and coronal

vision was the cause of Van Goghs Starry Night (Panter et al., 1995).

Wheat Fields Under Crows was one of Van Goghs last paintings and one that is

believed by many to be foreshadowing his suicide. According to Panter et al. (1995), the

crows give an ominous air to the painting. The vanishing point is reversed and consequently

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the point where the artist is standing is in front of the painting both of these, when put into
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the context of his subsequent death, are indicators of a man that is on the verge of suicide.

Alternatively, some historians suspect that Van Gogh was a victim of consumption of
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the deadly liquor absinthe for a very long time and that this underlies his penchant for the

deep and bright yellow color in most of his paintings. (Bhattacharyya & Rai, 2015; Jamison,
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1992; Loftus & Arnold, 1991). Bhattacharvva and Rai (2015) believe that Van Gogh may

have suffered from psychotism, defined as acting crazy and criminal,, suffering from

hallucinations, stupor, and having nightmares, due to his prolonged use of Absinthe (). It is

difficult to tease apart which of his ailments may have been causing the fluctuating styles of

his paintings the substance induced psychotic disorder, his bipolar disorder, or the collision

of the two.

Jackson Pollock. Jackson Pollock was considered volatile, even as a child he

began drinking at the age of nine, and was reported as being violent and having a low

threshold for frustration. He was described as having a tendency to withdraw and isolate

himself; later he would be described as a misfit, as being uninterested in dating, socially


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inept, a poor athlete, and unable to fit in (Naifeh & Smith, 2015; Panter, Panter, Virshup &

Virshup, 1995; Pollock & Wysuph, 1970). According to Pollock and Wysuph (1970),

Pollocks psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Hendersen, documented periods of violent agitation

alternating with paralysis or withdrawal, and this constituted a basis for the assertion that

Pollock was dealing with the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Positing a novel assertion in regard to the progression of Pollocks artwork,

Rothenberg (2001) stated that psychiatric treatment brought about a period of improvement

during which a creative breakthrough occurred. Pollock was considered the innovator of

expressionism, bringing expressionistic style from France and integrating it into the art

world of the United States.

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Pollocks Flame was a self-portrait depicting a young child. Art critics identified a
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emaciated, hollow-eyed, depressed, scared child. This was said to be influenced by Pollock

being a young child and dealing with starvation, drinking, and having psychological
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difficulties these themes and emotions were depicted through the use of chaotic and

fragmented anxious strokes (Panter, Panter, Virshup & Virshup, 1995).


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After a four-month stay at Bloomingdale Asylum, a psychiatric institute specializing

in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and his stay in Bellevue Hospital after a breakdown six

months later, Pollock under pressure from his siblings began work with Joseph

Henderson, a Jungian Psycholanalyst. Henderson worked with Pollock for 18 months and

received 83 of Pollocks drawings. According to Henderson, these drawings provided insight

into Pollocks psychopathology for example, most drawings were described as being

jagged and impulsive, having agitated renderings of confused human and animal forms;

these distorted images are said to give insight into Pollocks inner world, set free by abstract

painting (Panter, Panter, Virshup & Virshup, 1995).


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As Pollock became more entrenched in his alcoholism, he began to dissolve the

forms of his images. Art critics posited this was his way of veiling his images, a way to

destruct the imagery and a representation of his destruction of himself (Panter, Panter,

Virshup & Virshup, 1995). These critics suggested that he received permission from the

surrealists during this period to articulate his unconscious, allowing his inner images to force

their way out. While he abstained from drinking in 1947-1950, Pollocks style changed

drastically; he began the Classical Drip Period in which critics believed he exhibited his

freedom from alcoholism and revealed a rhythmic energy that translated itself into paint.

During his relapse in 1951, Pollock faded into his black period. His work included no

color, it contained mutilated figures, and exhibted what critics would call an overall funeral

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look. According to biographical records of the time, Pollock found it difficult to paint, and
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being without his outlet his depression worsened (Shepherd & Levy, 2004; Solomon, 2001;

Toynton & Pollock, 2012; Wigal, 2012).


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Overall, Pollocks imagery followed the progression of his alcoholism and his

depression. According to an interview with an interviewer two weeks before he died (as
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cited in Leja, 1990) Pollock indicated that he had been a fan of Freud and was considered by

others and himself a Jungian, and that his paintings were physical representations of his

unconscious. According to Leja (1990), Pollock internalized the unification of opposite

images, labeled dualistic imagery, which was a prominent feature of psychoanalytic

drawings and Jungian imagery. Leja stated that the use of the Jungian unconscious assisted

Pollock for a time to cope with artistic and psychological difficulties. Pollocks wife

commented on how recognizable the imagery became in his paintings, although he was

famous for obscuring images. When his imagery became too clearly defined, he concealed it.

In the end he was in his black phase, which some see as a conscious denial to resolve

conflicts because it was too painful to look at himself (Panter et al., 1995).


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According to Naifeh and Smith (2015), painting was how Pollock pacified his inner

demons. According to Panter et al. (1995), his painting technique was the mirror to his inner

chaos, an attempt to express his rage in a way that he could safely present to the world. As

they stated, By dripping, urinating on the canvas, as he did on the world, he was attacking

the canvas (pp. 38).

Edvard Munch. Warick and Warick (2010) wrote a biography of Edvard Munch

that described the correlation between his artwork and mental illness. Edvard Munch was

infamous for his lifelong struggle with mental illness. According to Rothenburg (2001),

Munchs diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychosis has been based primarily on his diary

in which he depicts visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, and series of disruptive

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behavior that ended in a psychiatric hospitalization. (Heller, 1984, Rothenburg, 2001; Stang,
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1972). He was able, through his art, to retain some sort of equilibrium in regards to his

psyche. Like other artists, Munchs illustrative legacy illuminated an in-depth study in the
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correlation between early childhood loss, pathologic grief and creativity.

According to Prideaux (2005), as a child Munch lost both his mother and sister to
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tuberculosis. Munch was left to the care of his father, an emotionally unavailable, depressed,

religious fanatic. Munch lost his youngest sister after she developed schizoaffective disorder

and was placed in a mental hospital. These losses set a precedent for Munch, creating a

theme of melancholy that would weave throughout his art.

Throughout his life Munch produced self-portraits that started in his teens and

continued throughout his adulthood. Art critics noticed similarities amongst the self portraits;

none of them showed him smiling, his mouth was purposefully tuned downwards, his

shoulders sagged, and multiple furrows showed in his forehead (Warick & Warick, 2010). In

The Sick Child, Munch depicted an event that occurred during the death of his sister. He

painted this picture six times in order to process the memory of his dying sister. According


DIAGNOSING MENTAL ILLNESS IN PAINTINGS 16

to Munch (as cited in Prideaux, 2005, p. 102) the only influences for The Sick Child came

from Munchs childhood and home life, as it depicted the suffering incurred by his loved

ones. Subsequent themes that reoccurred in his paintings included love, grief, despair,

loneliness, jealousy, anxiety, attachment, engulfment, separation and death.

The Scream, his most famous painting, was said by art critics to exhibit a

disintegrating fetus-like figure, an undulating sunset and coastline, and two vaguely drawn

human figures they stated it represented loss, the loss of self, loss of the day, and loss of

his parents (Warick & Warick, 2010). According to Munch (as cited in Prideaux, 2005, p.

167), while visiting Ekeberg with friends and watching the sunset, he experienced a moment

which he described as follows: suddenly the sky became blood and I felt a breath of

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sadness I heard a huge extraordinary scream pass through nature. Over a period of
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months Munchs visual hallucinations transformed into a work of art, beginning with a pen

and ink drawing and ending in a painting. Using homeospatial processes, defined as actively
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conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, a conception leading to

the articulation of new identities, Munch took initial pen and ink sketches that were inspired
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by his hallucination and transformed them into a piece of artwork throughout a yearlong

process (Rothenburg, 2001). What defined Munchs homeospatial processes was the

superimposed or interposed shapes, patterns, dimensions, distances, and other concrete

entities. This is what Rothenburg claimed was essential in the completion of artwork inspired

by psychoticism.

Munch suffered from numerous failed relationships, resulting in numerous affect-

filled paintings. Warick and Warick (2010) cited paintings that illustrated Munchs

experience of women and relationships. Vampire illustrated a womans head being buried in

a mans neck, Harpy showed a birdlike woman tearing out a mans innards, and most

reminiscent of his difficulties were his paintings of a dying or dead mother with a child near