Just Your Average Mental Breakdown: Yard with Lunatics

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Just Your Average Mental Breakdown

Artists Losing It
Curated by Drew Bierwirth

Francisco Goya, Yard with Lunatics, 1794

Goya himself said that this piece, part of a series of 11 pieces painted on tin, was to be "devoid of fantasy or fiction." Marking a significant change in his art, these pieces do not show daydreams and bright colors, instead they give us a peek into Goya's deteriorating mental state. He abandoned all of his past lightness in favor of using his talents to deal with the demons in his mind. This piece he described as “…a yard with lunatics, and two of them fighting completely naked while their warder beats them, and others in sacks—a scene I witnessed…”
Here, Goya doesn't take the usual approach, using chiaroscuro to lighten and exaggerate the scene. Instead, he allows it to be as dark as it is in his mind, shadows playing their own games and wrapping the scene in claustrophobic darkness. Art historian Arthur Danto spoke of the piece, saying Goya went from painting "a world in which there were no shadows to a world in which there was no light". Each lunatic is in their own world, part of the moment but so very much in their own. One sits on the ground, facing the viewer instead of the conflict happening right behind him. Goya artfully creates multiple focal points here, instead of making the two fighting in the middle the only thing to look at.

In his later life, Goya started to paint more and more political pieces with hidden messages abounding. Instead of painting members of Spanish court as before, he began to paint his own life and criticize culture with his work. During this period, asylums were more like holes to throw the psychotic into and keep them away from normal citizens instead of to treat their illnesses. Goya's inner torment and fear of mental illness seeps through the piece, making the viewer painfully aware of his grief. His own experiences during this time are exposed, with his own mental illness developing - the voices in his head getting louder, his hearing deteriorating. Makes me wonder which one of these lunatics Goya views as himself.

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