On this week’s Art Doctor, we talk about depression. Or, rather, one particular aspect of depression that isn’t often mentioned: existential angst.
I started thinking about this when talking to a friend. She struggles with big mental health issues, and has almost her whole life. So any coping mechanisms that most people use day-to-day aren’t really an option for her. She struggles simply to find a sense of self, a secure place inside to just be.
This has obviously been horrible and oppressive– but it’s had an unexpected side effect: she asks really good questions.
Not just the “why are we here” kind of questions, but the more everyday ones like, “Is this how people should behave?” “Why is life like this?” “Why can’t I manage to do that?”
These questions don’t have straightforward answers. Like all really good questions, they lead to MORE questions. But each step gives her insight, and as she goes along this path of questions, she becomes wiser. More compassionate, more introspective, more…herself.
So when I saw this Dürer again at the NGV Triennial, I thought about it in that context- the questions that come with depression. When I did a little research I was surprised to find that not only have other art historians thought in a similar way, that Dürer himself wanted the image to be therapeutic to those with melancholy.
So, I guess Albrecht Dürer is the original Art Doctor?