In the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to present at the European Arts Therapies Conference in Italy. One of the keynote speakers for the conference was Graziella Magherini, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. The title of her Keynote was “Aesthetic Emotion and Health: Arts Therapies in Italy”.
One of the issues that she touched upon was the idea that there is a universal innate predisposition to an emotional reaction to aesthetics or art, and that art therapy can provide a safe environment to facilitate that reaction. The reaction to art can be as dramatic as something called the “Stendhal Syndrome”.
Because Italy has millions of visitors each year, many of whom come specifically to experience the art, the Stendhal Syndrome has been documented and studied there. The symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and hallucinations. What seems to happen is a kind of extreme anxiety reaction, sometimes a panic attack, when a person’s personal history collides with being far from home and the exposure to a massive amount of art and history. Interestingly, it has sometimes been called the “Florence Syndrome” since it has happened to people spending a large amount of time at the Ufizzi.
While I was moved to tears at the beauty of the art in Italy, specifically at the Ufizzi, my own moments of overwhelming anxiety were linked to figuring out train schedules and airports. So I am left curious – have any of you been overwhelmed by art to the point of panic or collapse?