I attended an opening for “Valetudo: Art and Healing in Provence” at SVA tonight; the sanitarium at St. Remy is familiar to many as the place where Van Gogh painted for one year before committing suicide.
The artists are patients in the Sanitarium of St. Remy now, or recently, and parts of the Sanitarium are much the same as when Van Gogh lived and painted there.
Here’s more information about the show which is only up for another 5 days:
The MPS Art Therapy Department at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) presents “Valetudo: Art and Healing in Provence,” an exhibition of works made by psychiatric patients at the Maison de Santé Saint-Paul in the famed southern French town of Saint-Rémy. Curated by Dr. Jean-Marc Boulon, chief psychiatrist, along with Laurence Minard-Amalou, a private licensed tour guide in Provence.
Saint-Rémy has near-mythical status among artists and art historians as the place where Vincent Van Gogh spent a highly productive year from 1889 – 90 following his voluntary internment at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole mental hospital. It is here that the artist made renowned paintings like Irises and The Starry Night, just two of more than 150 paintings produced during his stay.
There was an excellent film that showed the history of St. Remy and I wish that I found a copy of it to embed here – instead, I’ll put something that might be seen as a tad more entertaining – Lust for Life – the original one with Kirk Douglass and Antony Quinn – you know the one.
By the way, the paintings I saw tonight were pretty good and it made me wonder.
Why is it that Art is often associated with a form of madness or deviant behavior? A couple of answers popped into my mind.
One possibility is the sameness and predictability of our lives is the antithesis of Art, that we only come to Art by bypassing the normal and expected (because it’s boring, even if it’s safe and predictable, which we often need to live a normal life). A form of madness might the the way into seeing things differently – and then again, the patients at St. Remy in Provence are considered mentally ill or insane, so maybe, under those circumstances, and with the wonderful surroundings – it’s not hard to see why interesting and very good work is done.
It’s also the Art Therapy part (at one time in my life I wanted to be an Art Therapist – but it was a road not taken).
Finally there’s the paintings of the inmates, some of those look very strongly influenced by Van Gogh’s own paintings . In fact, it’s not hard to see why that would be as we can not think of Provence and St. Remy or Aix en Provence but through the eyes of the Artists who painted and loved the places; in St. Remy we see Van Gogh and his Irises and wavy trees, etc. In Mt. Saint Victoire we see Cezanne’s depictions in our minds because they created realities that we still experience today.
However, what if what inmates at St. Remy see is not so much Van Gogh’s ghost (his vision overpowering reality) as the reality of St. Remy itself inspiring Van Gogh to paint as he did and for Cezanne to paint Saint Victoire as he did.
In that case, the mentally ill inmates of St. Remy might just be painting reality after all.