[FOUNTAIN]The problem of depression in KoreaOn Christmas Eve in 1888, painter Paul Gauguin went out for an evening stroll in the small village of Arles in southern France. Soon, he heard familiar footsteps and looked back to find his friend, Vincent van Gogh, running toward him with a razor in his hand. When Gauguin stared at him, van Gogh turned back.
After the unsuccessful attack, van Gogh retreated to his room and mutilated his left ear. A prostitute to whom he gave the severed earlobe informed the police and he was institutionalized the next morning. Until he killed himself with a gunshot two years later at age 37, van Gogh frequented psychiatric wards and produced countless masterpieces.
What triggered the depressed artist’s self-injury and suicide was frustration. Upon settling in Arles, van Gogh wanted to invite fellow artists to his studio to work together. The only painter who agreed to come was Gauguin. But the eccentric styles of the two geniuses immediately collided. Disturbed obsession arouses an aggressive impulse. He wanted to attack the one who shattered his dream. When the attack failed, his aggressive instinct fired back on himself.
Lee Jung-seob is the Korean counterpart of van Gogh. Once a respected artist, his tragedy began with the Korean War. When the war ended in 1953, he sent his sick Japanese wife and two sons back to Japan. He missed his sons so much that he etched naked children on a piece of foil from a cigarette box. His works were often sold, but he felt ashamed to take money from the buyers. His wife sent him money to buy a ticket to come to Japan, but he was swindled and couldn’t reunite with his family.
The series of difficulties resulted in mental disorders in 1954. His self-destructive drinking habit and repeated nervous breakdowns ended his life of 40 years in 1956.
The depression of geniuses might work as a creative driving force, but generally mental disorder is a curse and tragedy. Among Koreans, depression is common. After a series of historical tragedies and an authoritative culture that prohibits the expression of emotion, many Koreans have internal grudges and depression. That is why Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hun-jai’s comparison of the Korean economy to a depressive patient speaks to our hearts. Depression might be hard to cure, but the patient can recognize his symptoms.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.