Image Courtesy of Webster-Kirkwood Times
By Angela Hickey
Human beings have created art for as long as we can remember, but is there any science behind this constant creation? One Kirkwood artist has taken up this mission in order to answer the question, is there a link between art and science?
For the past decade, artist Bob Dick of Kansas City, MO — known professionally as R.H. Dick — has been involved with “Creativity and Madness”, an organization founded by Yale psychiatrist Barry Panter, whose main mission is to study the link between art and science. The group has published three volumes of psychological case studies; their latest features a section by Dick himself.
“Creativity and Madness” was founded in 1981 through The American Institute of Medical Education (AIMED) to provide education for scientists and physicians in the name of discovering the scientific links between psychology and art. Preaching the importance of searching outside the fields of science in order to keep up analytical research, “Creativity and Madness” searches for new ways to link the arts and the sciences.
“These cats are fascinated by the artist because most of them are quantifiers. They’re scientists,” said Dick in an interview with The Webster-Kirkwood Times. “They’ve been saddled with numbers and the scientific method since the Renaissance. Guys like me come in here and we talk about the vibe, the joyce, the things from beyond. They look at us bug-eyed. It blows their minds.”
The group features prominent figures, from neuroscientists and physicists to brain mappers and surgeons. The group of researchers gets together to hold conferences to hear from artists like Dick about what drives them to do what they do.
“There’s power that art has that modern man is just beginning to realize,” Dick said. “What is it about art that we just seem to be drawn to? It’s that power that hasn’t really been analyzed yet. We know that art changes the brain, but we don’t know why — and that’s why they’re intrigued.”
Dick was featured in Creativity & Madness’ most recent case study, discussing his time in the artist colony of Taos, New Mexico. Visiting for the first time at age 12, Dick felt an unexplainable force in the surrounding pueblos and returned to Taos numerous times over his career.
“How to describe Taos to a civilian? Anything goes. Artists, poets, freaks, snake handlers, outlaws, motorcycles, dropouts, drop-ins, gays, lesbians. Everybody is on a quest. Everybody is trying to find the center,” said Dick. “If you’re a searcher, if you’re an artist or poet, then Taos has an attraction that will grab you around your throat and not let go.”
Dick’s introduction to his section of the most recent case study talks about a “zone” in the creative process where time and space are broken. Artistic genius, he said, is determined by how long one can exist in that zone.
“I’ve talked to other creators and we all agree that if you, in your lifetime, can produce one or two great things, it’s at that point that you’ve jumped into madness,” he said. “What’s happening in that flow is that logic has dropped to the floor. Rationalism is gone. You’re dealing with ethereal, mystical things.”
The artist first experienced this phenomenon several decades ago, while working with fellow artist and model, Andrea Paulette, whom Dick calls, “a true muse.” Dick worked with Paulette for several years, creating various paintings and photographs, and what he considers his best work – a sculpture of Paulette created in a beer and aspirin-fueled haze.
“She’d come in in the morning and take the pose, and I’d work,” said Dick. “After seven days and seven nights, I’m coming apart. She looked at me and she said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I said, ‘I can’t do any more.’ And she walked out of here and that was the last time I saw her.”
Dick is very open with his mental health experiences, going into detail about his own struggles and personal experiences with depression.
“While she was sitting there and I was working, I had gone over the edge,” he continued. “When that came to an end, I went into a depression. I went into a sulking, gloomy life. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had given so much. I was empty.”
Ultimately, Dick, unlike many other famous artists, was able to pull himself out of that darkness, encouraging him to work with “Creativity and Madness” to understand the root of these common experiences and symptoms and their links to the artistic world.
To this day, Dick hasn’t parted with the piece he created with Paulette all those years ago.
“I’m proud of it, but at the same time I’m not so sure I did it,” he said. “Some of my best things came from beyond. Is that madness? It may be.”