A Beautiful Affliction: Tracing the Role of Mentally Ill Artists in Reducing the Negative Stigma of Mental Illness

by Katherine Hoffman

Institution: University of Detroit Mercy
Year: 2015
Keywords: Mental Illness ; Van Gogh ; Sylvia Plath ; Stereotype ; Stigma ; Madness ; Art ; Literature ; Mental Health ; Robin Williams
Record ID: 2060049
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10429/777


This thesis examines the concept of mentally ill individuals as historically marginalized “Others” in our society. The examination begins in the 19th century and traces primary sources of mentally ill artists and writers’ creative works, as well as their personal journals and letters. Specifically, Vincent Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath are shown to be seminal figures in a movement that advances the societal perspective of the mentally ill. Ultimately, it is found that Van Gogh and Plath’s internal and external support systems, as well as their ability to express their struggles in their artwork, define and motivate their success, as well as cause their demise. The crucial alternative viewpoints they, as well as other mentally ill individuals, offer to our world is contrasted with society’s continued efforts to limit the voice that they have to offer. An analysis of the modern day is made at the end of the thesis in an effort to identify and reduce the negative stigmas and restrictions still present in society today.