The essay, written as a series of fragments, operates on a number of levels: the tragic deaths of a father and daughter, the mentally ill as outsiders, and how mental illness and creativity is perceived to be connected (thus treament will obstruct or even destroy the creative impulse--a serious and potentially dangerous belief which Smee comes close to but doesn't confront). As such, the essay is not so much about art and mental illness, as it is about the misconceptions which surround such illnesses and how fearful we can be of individuals who suffer from them.
And while I attempt to make sense of the mix of emotions I feel while attempting to understand this essay and the issues it raises, I wonder if I am also having serious difficulties with this topic and not just Sebastian Smee.
How difficult and at times impossible it is to deal with altered realities within ourselves or those we love, and how much easier its is to exist in a state of denial and self-deception (itself an alternative reality). Although I understand very little about the true nature of creativity, I do know that the mind in a psychotic state has little opportunity for creativity.
The next issue of 'The Monthly' published a letter in response to Smee's article sent in by Mike Parr ('Degenerate Art', in Correspondence, March 2010, p72). Parr starts off his letter: I was utterly shocked by Sebastian Smee's irresponsible article...and goes on to take Smee to task over most of the points he makes in the original article. I found myself agreeing with many of the issues Kelly raised, some corresponded with my own response response but I had probably taken Smee's essay too personally and felt grateful Mike Parr had taken the trouble to write to The Monthly and the position he took .
The discussion continued in the next issue, with a response from Sebastian Smee to what he describes as Mike Parr's angry letter, and in which Smee defends his position in his original essay ('No Easy Answers', in Correspondence, April 2010, p73). Yet I don't feel Smee was able to make amends with this letter or resurrect his essay.
I will end with Mike Parr's last sentence:
The essayist is a coward and his 'essay' is an ignorant, cowardly attack on a vast population of loved ones who suffer the terrible isolation and loneliness of mental illness.Harsh words but the experience of mental illness is considerably harsher.