Louis Wain: Schizophrenic Cat Painter

A great example of a man who became schizophrenic but was able to harness his illness and mix it with his creativity for a living was Louis Wain.  This man earned a living by painting cats in comical situations.  They all resembled humans and would go golfing or eat at the dinner table and host parties.  But eventually as he became more sick, his cats started resembling bizarre portraits of very unique color combinations with strange facial expressions.

Louis Wain’s paintings are very valuable and have been featured all around the world in many books, magazines, and newspapers.  They are still celebrated as great art, and his most recent and strangest are seen as a peculiarity among the medical and art community.  Where it just began as weird backgrounds behind his cats who had scared looks on their faces became completely monstrous cats with unrecognizable faces, like multi-dimensional creatures.

Louis Wain developed what is called the paranoid schizophrenia type, which can be very debilitating.  He ultimately ended up spending the rest of his days in an assisted living home, painting the cats that ran free in the garden there.

What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia causes certain things to happen to an individual, and these symptoms can be classified in two categories: positive and negative symptoms.  Positive symptoms are the kind that lead to a wider range of behavior for the individual, such as feeling an extreme emotional delusion or seeing hallucinations that aren’t there.  Negative symptoms are different in that there is less action and a smaller range of behavior involved.  People can act as if they are in a coma on the outside, barely moving or doing the same repetitive movements over and over again.  They can also just feel like they are in a coma, as if their emotions are dead.

Positive symptoms can have you feeling, smelling, seeing, and hearing things that aren’t there.  You can even taste things that aren’t there.  It can lead to believing strange things about the government, aliens, and more.  Paranoia sets in and you can think all kinds of people are out to get you.  It can get out of hand quickly.  Negative symptoms can affect the speech, interest in activities and life in general, social life, and more.  The main problem with all of this is that the person suffering with schizophrenia may not realize they are even ill.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Nobody is fully sure what the cause of schizophrenia is.  Doctors have been on the hunt for many decades now but the confusion still remains, largely because there are so many variables involved and schizophrenia is so complex.  It seems like there are aspects that are related directly to the brain, including its physical structure and neurochemical transmitter levels.  There are also indications that it is related to the environment and the experiences of the person’s life.

Despite all of the various contributions that can exist that come together to create schizophrenia, it is still possible to create a diagnosis, and we have found medications that seem to work very well in helping reduce the symptoms intensity.

Some of the environmental factors that might help cause schizophrenia are related to viruses that the baby may be exposed to or substance abuse by the person or their parent, lack of certain vitamins and minerals needed as a baby, and even stressful trauma situations.  There are so many possibilities that it’s truly endless.

What is Schizophrenia?

Before we can talk too much more about schizophrenia, we need to mention what it is in a more clear manner, summarized, so we have somewhat of a preview in hand for future discussion.  Schizophrenia happens inside a person’s mind, for the most part.  It can cause confusion between the real world and thoughts, called delusions and hallucinations.  We all have these thoughts but we know the difference between them and what’s actually real.

It’s kind of like being in a dream but not realizing you are dreaming.  A schizophrenic person can feel like their strange thoughts are real things.  And a big kicker is that the person may not even realize that these weird ideas and concepts aren’t imaginary.

Nobody is truly certain why schizophrenia happens to certain people and not to others.  There are no clear causes, just correlations.  There are suggestions it could be related to literal, physical problems with the brain.  There are also thoughts that it’s related to neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brains that help regulate our moods.  There are those who believe it is a spiritual sickness.

What we do know is that there is a genetic component to schizophrenia, meaning that if you have a family member who has dealt with this, then you are more likely to as well.  If you have an identical twin, you are very likely to experience schizophrenia if he or she has before too.

Schizophrenia’s Long History

Schizophrenia is complex illness with an equally complex history.  The medical community didn’t suddenly find a disease and label it as “schizophrenia.”  It took many years; beginning in the early 1800’s the world in the West began to notice a cluster of similar symptoms and began giving them one name together.  What was noticed as an extreme form of madness was first called ‘early dementia’ because it occurred in the young and not the old, in the creative and not the dull.

The main thing people noticed was that it wasn’t like mood instability that young folks sometimes experienced, so they called it ‘developmental insanity’ referring to the youth that it affected.  In the 1870’s, schizophrenia, not yet being called such, became called ‘hebephrenia.’  But finally in 1908 it was noticed that the main effect of this illness was the split between the person’s personality and their mind and ability to reason.

This man, E. Bleuler, identified four effects of schizophrenia that he cleverly realized could all be described by the letter ‘A,’ which include Ambivalence, Autism, Affect, and Association.  Finally narrowing down the reality of this mental illness and giving it a common label helped make it accessible to the medical community and gave us the ability to communicate clearly with one another about it.