For decades, academics from various disciplines have sought to identify a quantifiable link between manic depression (bipolar disorder) and artistic creativity. Admittedly it is not possible to do a comprehensive work-up of Beethoven, for example, and consequently a diagnosis of bipolar disorder based on the second-hand descriptions of bill collectors, cleaning ladies, and piano-tuners would seem like reaching – at best – and twaddle, at worst.
However, the idea’s tremendous appeal has caused it to persist despite overwhelming improbability. Perhaps this is because true artistic genius is so difficult for squares and apple-pie eaters to understand that the only plausible explanations are divine inspiration or, something equally incomprehensible, madness.
Since artists are almost universally disliked, it may also be a convenient way for Jim & Joanie Lunchbucket to belittle their accomplishments. Extrapolating a bit further, it might support the idea that art itself is an essentially pointless exercise since it is frequently the product of people so far short of a full deck that a game of solitaire would be a love song to futility.
One of the poster boys for this frothy bit of whimsy dressed up for Halloween in a scientist’s lab coat is none other than the mad-as-a-March-hare Dutchman, Vincent Van Gogh. (Please note the correct pronunciation of this poor man’s last name, Ggggogggh.) Van Gogh was not merely mentally ill, oh no, he was barking mad, marzipan umbrella stand banana plan mad. Despite achieving absolutely zero acclaim and popularity in his lifetime, his work has gone on to enjoy universal acceptance. Today Van Gogh’s paintings are loved, cherished and highly prized worldwide.
The tragic details of Van Gogh’s lonely life are well known, and they would seem to support the case for a tight link between bipolar disorder and artistic creativity. That is why those who favor the theory were appalled when executives at the Rijksmuseum announced that they had unearthed evidence proving beyond any doubt that Vincent Van Gogh had a twin brother, Gogh – “GoGo” to his close associates. Reginald Smythe Throckmorton Anchovy Frampton Smythe, OBE, Dean of Fine Arts at Basingstoke University on Trent, takes up the story.
“The most amazing thing about the discovery is that Gogh Van Gogh was also a painter, a shockingly bad one. When I say bad I do not mean to imply that he was not as good as his brother, no, this poor chap wasn’t even as good as my brother, and he’s a green grocer. He was every bit as loony as Vincent, but without anything even resembling a spark of creativity.
“They’ve amassed most of his work and for the most part it was done for calendars used in petrol stations. Appalling stuff. Dogs playing poker, seems as if the boxers are always cheating – passing cards to one another with their feet. Those really dreadful sad clowns with massive wet eyes and flowerpots on their heads. We think of him as the Thomas Kinkade of his day.”
I’ll just say this, his work is such a complete disgrace that it calls into question the value of art itself; one assumes Vincent kept him a secret because any association would have ruined his credibility as a mad genius.”