If you consider mental illness or even depression as a breakdown of sociological patterns, the “one-directional stigma”, (that insanity is foremost a concern for the individual) looses it’s importance and significance. Insanity is a two way street. “Art” is of course situated in a social context but I find it interesting that insanity most often is a outbreak from the very same social context, without regard for its borders: Maybe these artworks speak to us in a deeper and more individual sense because of this?

The rare beauty that sometimes are the result of sociological failure can be a successful artistic expression. Communication goes beyond social conventions and intellectual interactions. Here are three examples of great artists who’s artwork did not function in the context of their lifetime: Herbert Khaury a.k.a Tiny Tim (1932 – 1996), Carl Fredrik Hill (1849 – 1911) and Erik Johan Stagnelius (1793 – 1823).

I’m not in any way comparing their artistic values or their supposed degree of insanity: They all have my most sincere and deepest respect. Both for their psychological strength as well as for their emotional inability that led them their own way. They all speak to me in the most individual personal way. Solo Dei Gloria!


Herbert Khaury / Tiny Tim:

Tiny Tim sometimes expressed rare beauty; far more interesting than other things that may have achieved more recognition. The beauty lies in the brief moment, being truthful to his own expression.

As an artist Tiny Tim didn’t take personal social considerations. He did not equip us with the necessary tools to label him or his intentions.

Tiny Tim was during his most commercially successful years in the sixties considered as something of a circus sidekick, but he was so much more. His musical preferences where more rooted in the late Victorian popular culture than in the mid 20th century American. He often applied his falsetto, staccato pitched very rich voice to modern songs like in I got you babe, here below, but it was in performing traditional tunes from 1890 to 1940 (as the above) that his true love lied. He was an expert on music from that time period and he had about 3000 songs in his repertoire.



Carl Fredrik Hill:

The painter Carl Fredrik Hill made beautiful paintings charged with emotions until he fell into insanity and was locked up. During his illness he sketched and painted on everything he could get a hold on.

CF Hill CF Hill
Paintings by Carl Fredrik Hill, late 1900-century.

Compare the two paintings above, they are made some ten years apart, before and after his illness. CFH was famous for his tree-studies and if you look at the branches on most of his trees you will find they resemble each another a great deal. In the latter painting the tree is however no longer a tree, even though it still have the characteristic grouping of branches: It gets transformed into a deer with gnarled branches, screaming with erotic undertones, as in the rut cry of the artist himself. At the same time, if you compare the branches, you will find it is the same tree…

The perfect image of a communication breakdown: his work was not functional any longer, they where merely the gibberish of a lunatic. And still: the artistic cry is perhaps more revealing and truthful to the artists inner emotions in the latter version. As communication in an artistic context the expression of Carl Fredrik speaks to us today, hundred years after his death. The communicational breakdown was telling us more.

Carl Fredrik Hill
Another painting by CF Hill


Erik Johan Stagnelius:

Erik Johan Stagnelius wrote romantic poems about misery & madness some 200 years ago. Most of his poems where found in a sack in his apartment, after he had died.

In one poem he speaks about who we can turn to when our inner soul is laid out in darkness and we even can’t sigh anymore… Who can help in desolate times? In perfect despair? Only the One Powerful Being, that from the darkness of the night made suns dance, the world creating Word…

Therefore, rejoice, O friend and sing in the deep dark of sorrow:
Night is the Mother of Day; Chaos the Neighbor of God.

God is more close, the farther away he seems. It’s like Jesus sleeping in the storm (Mark 4:35-41): This is where we can truly put our trust in Him; This is where we can be ruled to the fullest; Chaos is the neighbor of God.

Erik Johan Stagnelius

The poet Stagnelius
early 1900-century



To me insanity breaks out when you no longer can bear not being able to communicate from within the Chaos, the unbearable silence that keeps trying to express itself. The emotional numbness ridden by emotions.

I rather listen to people who live on the border, than those knowledgeable who know where they are. It’s the sense of being lost, that keep us out of regular vanities… (Instead we, madly, show off our vanity like we would a new born child)

– It’s the inability to express something that burst through limitations. Madness and depression is being deaf and mute to the mute and deaf. It’s the mutual agreements that keep us from meeting and agreeing. We should make an effort to let the mute be heard and speak to the deaf. No matter what side of the asylum walls we currently reside, we both needs to listen over the walls and trespassing the borders. Let’s sleep in the midst of the storm…


St Dymphna
St Dymphna, patron Saint of
mental and nervous disorders:
– Pray for us.

And just let me add these words of hope… 😉

– Let’s embrace emotional numbness, let us rejoice in abandoned hope: You must be really close now, at the least you’re very far off.


Found a photo from Port Meadow in Oxfordshire that I first thought was the actual poplars that Hopkins wrote about in his poem Binsey Poplars. The Binsey poplars where felled in 1879.

After a bit more research I found that Port Meadow is just beside Binsey. The Thames divide them. So it seems that these poplars where very very close, but is not the actual ones. After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

The photograph is a picture of a similar copse, in the same area, in about the same time – as in the wonderful poem Binsey Poplars (see below) by Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J.


In the photograph you can see two young schoolgirls. They are crossing a small bridge over a stream in Port Meadow sometime between 1860 to 1922. (This is the time when the photographer Henry Taunt was active and the photograph must have been taken). *

Schoolgirls at Port Meadow



    MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
    Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
    All felled, felled, all are felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
    Not spared, not one
    That dandled a sandalled
    Shadow that swam or sank
    On meadow and river and wind-wandering
    weed-winding bank.
    O if we knew but what we do
    When we delve or hew–
    Hack and rack the growing green!
    Since country is so tender
    To touch her, being so slender,
    That, like this sleek and seeing ball
    But a prick will make no eye at all,
    Where we, even when we mean
    to mend her we end her,
    When we hew or delve:
    After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
    Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
    Strokes of havoc unselve
    The sweet especial scene,
    Rural scene, a rural scene,
    Sweet especial rural scene.

* The photograph can be found at The English Heritage NMR. The reference number is BB72/06698. You can see some more recent photographs of the area here: Oxfordinciter

Between 1854 to 1863 Gerard Manley Hopkins was educated at the Highgate school. For a couple of months in 1861 – when Hopkins was sixteen -the English poet R.W. Dixon was an assistant master there and even though they did not really got acquainted at that time, Dixon made such an impact on Hopkins, that seventeen years later Gerard wrote a letter to Dixon in which he expressed his high regards towards his old master and especially for his writing.

In response Dixon wrote a letter which I think draws a colourful image upon Dixons perception of Gerard as a young boy.

I think that I remember you in the Highgate School. At least I remember a pale young boy, very light and active, with a very meditative & intellectual face, whose name, if I am not vastly mistaken, was yours. If I am not deceived by memory, that boy got a prize for English poetry. I may be deceived in this identification: but if you have time to write again, I should like to know. I little thought that my gift to Mr. Lobb, which I had quite forgotten, would bear such a fruit.

The gift Mr. Dixon is referring to was his book: Christ’s Company, published in 1861. A book Gerard referred to – in his previous letter to Dixon – as a part of my own mind. Dixons memory was not vastly mistaken. The pale young boy was indeed Gerard Hopkins. And GM wrote back: The correspondence between Dixon and Hopkins evolved to a deep friendship and lasted a decade, until the very end of Hopkins lifetime.