There’s a museum for psychiatry close to where I live, called Het Dolhuys. What can you expect to see in such a museum? I wasn’t really sure, but I thought it would mostly be signs, stuff to read, not much visual entertainment anyway, something a member of Generation Y cannot live without.
However, this season they are having an exhibition about the connection that a lot of people see between artistic genius and mental illness. The main point is: was Vincent van Gogh crazy? I decided I wanted to see the exhibition regardless of my low expectation of the museum, just because the topic interested me.
It turns out the museum is quite wonderful, it gives a balanced account of the treatment of mental health problems through the years and does this not just by putting up informative signs but my means of sculptures, video, a cinema, patient stories, quizzes. The focus was very visual, the design of the whole place was beautiful, and I liked that there was a lot of material about creativity and illness and how we perceive artists. For something to become art, it has to be different, so in some way the person who makes it has to be able to be/think differently. Maybe this means that art and artists are ‘crazy’ by definition, because crazy only exists when it’s compared to the ‘normal’. But then again, ‘crazy’ is a pretty hollow term, so it doesn’t really matter that much. In the end you just have to sell what you make, and this gets increasingly hard when you’re truly crazy, I imagine. Maybe Vincent agrees with me on this. Though he did not consider himself to be crazy, and neither do I.
The van Gogh part was interesting, but what I liked the most was material about gender in psychiatry, and how women are traditionally diagnosed completely different from men with the same symptoms. I’ll be reading up on this, I’m afraid, because when something’s sparked my interest, it’s hard to ignore.