Everybody knows pain; loss and trauma drive the activities of many artists. By extension, so does madness.
Thats the premise of a long-standing series of conferences for medical professionals. called Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists, the conferences have been around since 1981 when Barry Panter, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, founded the educational enterprise. Panter and his wife, Jacqueline Berz Panter, continue to organize and run the seminars all over the world. Through presentations and discussion, attendees explore issues such as depression, mid-life transition, psychosis and suicide as revealed in the lives and work of great artists. A secondary objective is to understand creative adaptations to the problems and conflicts encountered in life. Finally, attendees get to explore interesting parts of the world.
A few years ago, I stumbled onto a C&M conference in Santa Fe, a location that seems to be popular with medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. By attending C&M, professionals accrue up to 18 hours of continuing education credits for licensing. The conferences come under an umbrella organization, the American Institute of Medical Education, and are sanctioned by additional layers of medical bureaucracy. Its all fairly high powered and confusing to the outsider, which brings me into the picture.
Having been intrigued by the Santa Fe conference, I decided to submit a proposal for the fall 2010 session. It didnt hurt that C&M would travel to Berlin and Vienna, two cities long on my travel list.
The mailer indicated proposals already on the schedule: The Addicted Artist: Problems and Solutions, Beethovens Deafness and, because Vienna was to be a host city, Johann Strauss Jr. and Depressive Illness. Sounded good to me.
But I was an interloper. I had to be paired with a medical person, and I had to find an appropriate topic within my range as an arts critic.
Mozarts Don Giovanni happens to be my favorite opera, and the character Don Juan certainly qualifies as a sex addict. So that settled the problem of a topic. My title: Lover Boy: The Legend and Legacy of Don Juan.
Those of you who attended my dress rehearsal a month ago in the LifeLong Learning series at Fort Lewis College saw the presentation. With your suggestions, I polished the talk further and delivered it off the cuff. I researched the psychodynamics of the character and the real life counterparts Casanova, Lord Byron and any number of current celebrities in order to raise discussion issues for the real medical pros at the conference.
The Berlin presentation went better than expected. I spoke on the first day and found myself in very good company between Dr. Joseph Pursch, a specialist on addictive behavior, and Dr. Martin Keller, a specialist on physician burnout and compassion fatigue. Keller made entertaining connections between addiction, Don Juan, burnout and fatigue. So we were off to a very good conference start.
When not in morning lectures or late afternoon discussions, people explored Berlin and Vienna great museums by day and concerts in the evening. At the end, we saw what I thought was the perfect opera for a conference on creativity and madness Tchaikovskys Queen of Spades, a bizarre, purple-tinged plunge into the world of obsession. Needless to say, a great time was had by all.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at judithlreynolds @yahoo.com.