Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fine Art Views

Because I live with a painter and we both talk about what we love to do (a lot), it’s been interesting to find that almost everything written about both painting and writing translates to the other very well. Whether we’re talking about inspiration, lack of inspiration, what makes some artists or writers successful while others struggle, or how a full time writer or artist is perceived by other people, there seem to be parallels. I received my first issue of a new e-newsletter this week and thought I’d share an interesting piece. I wonder if there is a literary equivalent to Stendhal Syndrome. There have been a great number of books I’ve read over the last forty years that have had a profound impact on me, although even Ken Kesey’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” didn’t induce hallucinations. Great writing has brought me to tears, kept me from sleeping, invigorated me and caused me to annoy everyone I come into contact with because I won’t stop talking about the great book I just finished.


Do You Have Stendhal Syndrome? I Do!

By Clint Watson

In the July/August 2006 Issue of Art of the West Magazine, Tom Tierney and Allan Duerr wonder in their column "Straight Talk" why some people respond to art so strongly while others seem impervious to art's spiritual effects upon one's soul. As I pondered their questions, I remembered reading about an obscure psychosomatic "illness" regarding cases of people who exhibit extreme sensitivity to beautiful art. The phenomenon is called "Stendhal syndrome."

Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic "illness" that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art.

Marie-Henri Beyle, the French author known as Stendhal (his pen name), visited Florence in 1817. His book, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, describes his experience of the "illness." He actually became dizzy and confused by the majestic beauty of Florentine art. According to an Italian psychiatrist, Graziella Magherini, it happens all the time. Magherini observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence. Tourists visit the Uffizi, and fall to the ground while viewing paintings by Brunelleschi or Botticelli.

I've seen similar effects upon visitors to art exhibitions that I've attended. People stand in front of paintings gaping, weeping, or laughing. Stendhal syndrome illustrates the amazing power that artists wield when they concern themselves with creating beauty, rather than making ridiculous "statements."

Speaking of splashes and gimmicks, I have to wonder if anyone has ever fainted in front of an Andy Warhol or a Jackson Pollock? How many tourists have collapsed in tears in the MOMA? How many have been elated to spiritual highs by the geometric shapes of a Mondrian? Although to be fair, I have to admit that the apparent appeal and popularity of Warhol, Pollock, Mondrian, Picasso and other modernists does leave me in a state of confusion, but that's not quite the same thing as keeling over from the sheer beauty of their works....

As Allan and Tom point out in their column, those of us who are art lovers "...respond to art because it feeds our souls and, simply put, makes our world a better place." If being a person who responds strongly to art makes me ill, then I don't want to be well brother!

That’s my point, reply to email me yours at


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS: "A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art." (Paul Cezanne)

This article appears courtesy of by Clint Watson, a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists, collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

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Do you have Stendhal Syndrome? Do you believe there’s a literary equivalent? What's the strongest reaction you've ever had to art or literature and what caused it?

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf