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Stendhal Syndrome: Overdosing On Beautiful Art

Imagine that you’re in Florence, looking at awe-inspiring, breathtaking works of art. If you suddenly start to feel that you literally cannot breathe, you may be experiencing Stendhal Syndrome. A psychosomatic disorder, Stendhal Syndrome causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, fainting, and confusion when someone is looking at artwork with which he or she deeply emotionally connects. 

Also called Florence Syndrome, Stendhal Syndrome is similar to Paris Syndrome, in which tourists who visit Paris for the first time experience anxiety, dizziness, tachycardia, hallucinations, or delusions after they realize that Paris is drastically different from the idealized city they thought it would be. Another extreme form of culture shock is Jerusalem Syndrome, in which tourists suffer from obsessive religious thoughts and delusions in the holy city of Jerusalem. 

Stendhal Syndrome is not merely a modern phenomenon or #FirstWorldProblem. In 1817, a French author named Marie-Henri Beyle described his experience visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Beyle, who wrote using the pseudonym Stendhal, felt overwhelmed by all the beauty and rich history surrounding him: The Basilica featured magnificent frescoes created by the Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, and it was where Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo were buried. Emotionally, he felt inspired by the sublime beauty, but physically, he experienced heart palpitations and weak, shaky legs.

Over a century later, visitors to Florence continued to suffer from similar symptoms. In 1979, Dr. Graziella Magherini worked as the Chief of Psychiatry at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. After observing more than 100 tourists who were hospitalized after looking at art in Florence, she coined the term Stendhal Syndrome. In 1989, she published a book, La Sindrome di Stendhal, about these tourists, who experienced a range of symptoms that included anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, and even psychotic episodes—all after seeing renowned artwork.

Describing the patients she observed, Magherini said they were sensitive, emotional people who essentially "overdosed" on art. Because Florence has so much famous artwork on display, tourists tend to squeeze in as much art as they can in a few days. Victims are typically impressionable, single people between 26 and 40 years old, who are stressed by travel and may be struggling with jet lag. Of the people she studied who were hospitalized, about half had prior treatment for mental illness—although "prior treatment" could simply mean that someone attended weekly therapy sessions.

So why Florence? Some cases of Stendhal Syndrome have occurred in other Italian cities with stunning artwork, but Magherini says that Florence is the locus because it has the most Renaissance art, which is superficially beautiful and recognizable but often contains darker, disturbing details. Magherini notes that art can provoke subconscious feelings and memories in sensitive viewers. After a few days of rest, or better yet, leaving Italy and resuming their normal lives, patients usually recover fully.

Stendhal Syndrome does not currently appear in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Psychiatrists have, however, documented the syndrome in medical journals  and advise that tourists pace themselves in art museums and get enough rest in between viewings of Italy’s breathtaking, powerful masterpieces.

Bonus trivia: A 1996 Italian horror movie called La Sindrome Di Stendhal was about a serial killer who kidnaps a woman who is experiencing Stendhal Syndrome at a museum. The film’s writer and director, Dario Argento, was inspired by his own intense experience with Stendhal Syndrome as a child while visiting the Parthenon with his parents.

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The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Tessa Angus
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Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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