The Power of Our Own Spirit: Mental Health and Artists of the American South
On view through May 15 – July 26, 2019
Perhaps the most active and influential artist in East Tennessee, Catherine Wiley (1879 – 1958) was critically acclaimed for her impressionistic landscapes and insightful portraits. In a 1912 essay, Wiley wrote, “only when paintings make us realize more acutely the poetry that lies within us all, the romance that we ourselves feel, the power of our own spirit, the ‘externalisation’ of our own soul as it were—only then has it a meaning.” Even with this aesthetic insight, Wiley’s own spirit was deeply troubled. Following a series of professional and personal losses between 1919 and 1926, her mental health steadily deteriorated, culminating in a diagnosis of schizophrenia and subsequent confinement to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of her life.
Familiar depictions of notable literary, musical, or visual artistic minds like van Gogh or Mozart highlight the frequent connection between creative output and the “tortured genius” stereotype. Decades of medical research insists that the link is anecdotal rather than clinical, and the inherent difficulty of defining “creativity” and “genius” make such conclusions untenable. Though international renown came after van Gogh’s tragic death, scholars and scientists now recognize that the artist’s brilliance should not be merely ascribed to his mental state, but hailed as a triumph over illness.
Whether grappling with debilitating depression, substance abuse, or a psychiatric disorder the Southern artists featured in this exhibition—Walter Anderson, Patrick Bruce, Elizabeth Chant, Conrad Chapman, Beauford Delaney, Minnie Evans, Henry Faulkner, Zelda Fitzgerald, William Hollingsworth, Jr., William H. Johnson, Ray Johnson, Edward Middleton Manigault, Paul Rohland, Eugene Thomason, Bob Thompson, and Wiley—produced compelling bodies of work that demonstrate their artistic gifts and serve as a testament to their courage. Reflecting on his mental health, van Gogh vowed that “the thing that makes one fall ill . . . that same thing gives us the energy, once the illness is over, to get up and want to recover the next day.”
Hailed by The Magazine Antiques with staging a “quiet art historical revolution” and expanding “the meaning of regional,” the Johnson Collection offers an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late eighteenth century to the present day. In May 2016, the collection received the Governor’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts, South Carolina’s highest honor in the field. Located at 154 West Main Street in the heart of Spartanburg’s downtown, TJC Gallery features rotating selections from the collection’s holdings. These curated exhibitions are open to the public without charge on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 12pm to 4pm as well as the first Saturday of the month from 12pm to 4pm. In addition, TJC Gallery is pleased to participate in the city’s ArtWalk series, held on the third Thursday of each month from 5pm to 8pm.