The Lyme Museum
On the Courtauld Gallery selling souvenirs making light of Van Gogh's mental illness
The aim of a gallery is to display the life and the work of an artist by showing to the public that every and each one of us should be represented in a cultural environment in an ethical way. That means that every visitor should feel equal. I cannot see the reason why such gallery would promote the purchase of such souvenirs, like the “emotional first aid kit” or a soap bar for “tortured artists”. Even the words emotional and tortured are used as if they are negative, less important, different of what “normal” — I don't even like the fact that there are still people using this word — is in society.
I took a moment to think about how confusing that might be for those who decided to go to the gallery shop after visiting the exhibition. What would their thoughts be? Not only those who may not have an illness, but also those who have visible or invisible disabilities? Would they applaude? Would they feel that they are represented enough as members of a society? Or whould they get confused by the messsage the marketing team would try to send?
An artist should be appreciated, understood and represented fir their whole being. Van Gogh is not just a creator of paintings but also a person that might have had a mental ilness. A person that sometimes might not have been able to understand himself, let alone the society he lived in, a situation that even today lots of us might face.
Visiting a gallery room full of a painter's masterpieces we should be able, at the end of the visit, to understand the ways the creator created, thought and lived. Going to a shop where objects are showing mental ilnesses as if a disadvantage or even worse as if something that is considered to be a bit of a joke like erasers, soap bars etc., I personnaly believe that it does not make everyone feel an integral part of the society.
Evangelia Valliou is The Lyme Museum curatorial and content volunteer.