Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stendhal Syndrome

Here is an article I found about Stendhal Syndrome. I didn't know such a syndrome existed.

by Clint Watson 

In the July/August 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. Apparently Sensitive tourists enter the Uffizi, stand in front of  paintings by Brunelleschi or Botticelli, and simply keel over.   
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 painting or sculpting, rather than making ridiculous splashes or preposterous gimmicks. 

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!

1 comment :

Leslie said...

I think more people need to be swooning in front of great art. To me, it would mean that society had returned to honoring emotions and the left brain. Being so caught up in our technology and our busy, busy minds is simply not healthy. Remember the story of Atlantis? Whether you think it existed or not, it's a good reminder of what can happen when we make facts and technology into "god."