That’s the perception, anyway, and proponents of this theory cite Van Gogh, Hemingway, Schumann, Gauguin, and Woolf, among other troubled geniuses. But the reality is, the link between mental illness and creativity is more correlation that causation, although there’s no doubt that an artist’s mind sees things a little differently.
Take, for example, Theodore Clement Steele.
T.C. Steele, as he’s known, was an American Impressionist. He’s one of the five members of the renowned Hoosier Group of artists and the progenitor of Brown County, Indiana’s arts scene. He’s an all-too-rare example of an artist who was celebrated during his lifetime. And yet, the expected tales of self-indulgence don’t exist, and he had a lifetime of support.
I’d first seen T. C. Steele’s paintings at the Haan Mansion Museum of Indiana Art and I was struck by the luminous quality of his Indiana landscapes. I wanted to learn more about the man behind the brush, and the best place to do that was at the T. C. Steele State Historic Site in Brown County.
We drove the winding two-lane road on a Sunday morning, passing yellowed beech leaves fluttering in the March breeze and winter-bare oaks. As we neared, we saw a double-arch whose entrance was blocked by stanchions, and beyond that, a red house at the top of a hill. It was a bucolic setting, but we soon learned it wasn’t quite so idyllic in 1907 when Steele and his wife, Selma, moved to Brown County and forever changed this part of Indiana.
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