The artist as a contemporary observer of madness

Recent readings have prompted me to consider how the identity of the artist is informed by a relationship with madness, both as an interpretive lens and a prism through which audiences interpret their work.

4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Psychosis weaves the imaginative with the unimaginable, presenting audiences with a glimpse behind the veil of severe clinical depression. Freeform in its treatment, the play is stark and disturbingly authentic. Every inch of Kane's scarred consciousness lays bare in Psychosis, a cragged landscape where viewers are compelled to confront the convention and reality of depression.

Stirrings Still by Samuel Beckett
An uncertain pause, a reflection of self, and the discomfort felt when one looks forward with unknowing. His final piece of prose, Stirrings Still delicately weaves Becketts experience of the now, past and the future into the consciousness of the audience.

We are curious creatures, by nature and habit. We satisfy our curiosity by expanding and manipulating the boundaries of the material world surrounding us. As we push back on the boundaries of the world outside ourselves, the landscape "within" remains largely enigmatic. Of all the curiosities of the human condition few stimulate deeper pause than our reflections on normalcy. We have architected a myriad of clinical and theistic discourses informing our prescriptions of the normal and the abnormal. Repositioned the signposts that delineate insiders from outsiders, those that separate us from them.

It's through these discourses that we come to accept what it means to be "mad".

Antonin Artaud by Man Ray 1926

The artist excavates madness through artistic discourse. Unlike theism and science (kiosks concerned with dispensing a discursive brand of madness knowledge), the arts provide a lens through which the experience of madness can be expressed commonly. The artist functions as both an outsider and an insider. The artist assumes the role of the contemporary, an observer of convention, allowing audiences to peer into the underpinning darkness. The artist's work has allowed us to observe madness with sympathy and awe. Through the clumsy exploits of a would be knight, or as a manifest of arcane knowledge and power wielded by a king's mentor. It has reflected madness through the prisms of gender, race, sexuality and civilization.

Madness and normalcy; the perspectives of outsiders and observers, converge through artistic expression in challenging and relevant discourse. A discourse that has broad implications for individuals and communities alike and can help us interrogate the madness taboo through lenses of gender, race, sexuality and religion.