Film review: Art & Mind charts sights unseen

Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear 1899
Pieter Bruegel - Dulle Griet (Mad Meg)
Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear 1899 Pieter Bruegel - Dulle Griet (Mad Meg)

Art & Mind

Director: Amelie Ravalec

English, French, with subtitles

Reviewed by: Martin Turner

In cinemas: July 27-28, 30

3.5 stars

The creators of Art & Mind, billed as a journey into art, madness and the unconscious, are either wildly ambitious to bite off such a huge subject, or perhaps a little crazy. One suspects they would happily settle for both descriptors, given the topic at hand and their treatment of it.

Art documentaries often settle on the lives of individual iconic artists, allowing for a concentrated and somewhat linear narrative that makes for easy consumption and pleasing imagery.

However, the subject matter here is altogether different, taking a somewhat esoteric topic that lends itself to quite confronting imagery, albeit often great art.

This finds form in medieval works depicting the barbaric treatments offered at fairs and the like that viewed mental problems as something that could be actually cut out of the head.

Among the hundreds of images presented, the likes of Hieronymus Bosch and the Flemish Masters, Pieter Bruegel, Goya, Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh are prominent.

Art historians, artists, museum curators, psychiatrists and neuroscientists all feature, with the subject matter taking a turn as it enters the 20th century, particularly following the breakthroughs of Sigmund Freud in exploring the unconscious.

Suddenly, with the avant-garde movement of Surrealism and Art Brut and Outsider Art, artists had a language for discussing the madness that inspired their creativity.

In order to look out, they can now look in.

Through the experiences of contemporary practitioners interviewed, we see a wild streak as being almost intrinsic to artistic expression.

Of course, this is to take a rather broad approach to the real aspects of mental illness that have plagued artists, Van Gogh the obvious example. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider the whole spectrum of forms of madness in considering creativity.

Where does one go to create art? The mind is a mysterious place, but it is somewhere between its workings and interactions with the world that the magic happens.

Art & Mind doesn’t exactly pinpoint that place, but it certainly opens the mind to all sorts of possibilities.