Stendahl's Syndrome or
Why does Art Hate Homer Simpson?
There is an episode (mom
& pop art) of the Simpson's where Homer Simpson has become an artist.
Well, actually he messes up making a barbecue and that's modern art. Anyway,
to get new inspiration, he exposes himself to art. Books, museums, etc.
And after he has consumed mass quantities of art, he has a horrific dream
in which elements of different paintings attack him. Homer cries out, "Why
does Art hate me. What have I ever done to Art?"
feels attacked and overwhelmed by all that he has absorbed. It is only
when he gives into art, (fits the zoo animals with snorkeling gear and
floods the town, okay so maybe you need to see the episode to understand)
that he can feel comfortable with art again.
That's Stendahl's Syndrome.
Well, not the town the flooding part.
Stendahl's Syndrome is when
you are exposed to so much beauty that you faint. It's associated with
panic, guilt and a sense of being overwhelmed. Well, art is overwhelming.
Syndrome is named after a French Romantic novelist, Henri Byle Stendahl.
In 1817, the Stendahl visited Florence Italy and while visiting Saint Croce,
he was so overwhelmed with beauty that he grew dizzy. His diary reads,
"Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I
had palpitations of the heart. Life was drained from me. I walked with
the fear of falling."
And there it is, the Stendahl
to Homer connection. And from Stendahl to Homer to me.
Okay, so I've never actually
fainted like Stendahl from a surfeit of art or beauty, but I've come close
a few times.
I remember my first time.
Standing on the bow of a ship going up the Bosporus. It was night time
and there was a full moon. The water was like a glass, but darkly. Silvered
with a light mist. In the distance were dark shapes that was the land.
Little lights on the shore twinkled. It was so clear and cool and beautiful.
All the serenity of the world in that moment. I stood and looked at the
water and clutched the rail, because I was dizzy with beauty. I felt like
something inside me had relaxed and opened up. That the silvery light was
flooding into me. Filling me to the brim. It was intoxicating.
There have been other times,
but although I've grown faint, I've never felt guilty. Not when I stood
in San Marco Cathedral in Venice and I halfway had vision of a great Indian
Jones style ball of fire rolling past the pews. Not when standing in a
cave in the Dordogne looking at paintings of a world where Bison and Mammoth
still roamed. Not when attending a concert in Notre Dame.
I suppose I've experienced Stendahl's Syndrome. The dizziness. The faintness
of vision. I've just never wondered why Art hates me.
I agree with Homer's ultimate
realization here (and its just so Homer). Relax. Don't fight art. Open
up and give into the sublime.