The right-brain equivalent to the Mad Scientist and Mad Doctor. May work in any medium, but the subject is almost always evil. He may make statues by dipping live people in concrete/wax, he may redecorate other people's houses with explosives, or he may try to get the perfect ending to his murder mystery novel by starting a real murder mystery. The unifying thread is that he always sees a few incidental deaths as meaningless compared to the eternal majesty of his masterpieces.
Mad performance artists, singers, actors, and the like do outrageous and sociopathic things in public either as art, or so that people will pay attention to their art.
This character's motivation and descent into madness may be similar to his scientist counterpart, caused by a shunning from the community or a dismissal of his work as too crazy or unorthodox.
The Mad Artist is somewhat rarer a trope than the Mad Scientist since, while Science Is Bad, art is almost always good, or at least benign (even if it is angsty or incomprehensible). Some characters actually embody both tropes at once, using super science to fuel their mad artistic vision. While a Mad Scientist can be one of the good guys, you'll practically never see a Mad Artist so venerated — to escalate into Mad Artistry, the artist must usually break too sacred a taboo (eg. murder or torture) to be an acceptable good guy.
There is an element of Truth in Television with this trope. The list of creative people who have exhibited symptoms of mental illness is inexhaustible. However, most Real Life Mad Artists aren't violent — they're much more prone to Angst.
For actual artists who draw for MAD (who may or may not qualify as this, depending on the point of view) see that Trope Page.
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The Weiß Kreuz series is full of these: the musician whose music drives people crazy, the dollmaker who uses human skin in his creations, and a whole cult that revolves around using the body parts of women in artistic arrangements... among others.
Deidara from Naruto makes frequent references to his "explosive" art, even affirming once that he doesn't do pop-art, he does superflat.
His partner Sasori also counts; it is mentioned that Deidara looks up to Sasori as a fellow artist. He specializes in creating puppets, sometimes out of people (including himself). He and Deidara often argue about whether art is supposed to be fleeting and transient (like Deidara's exploding sculptures) or eternal (like Sasori's puppets).
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service based one chapter around a former embalmer who went insane, and in the process concluded that artwork aimed at the soul was meaningless; true art, in his view, was based in flesh. He took up a job as a hairstylist and offered women he found attractive a "special cut". If they accepted, he chloroformed them, cut off several of their limbs, and waited for them to wake up. Once they did (and panicked at their maiming), he cut off their heads and assembled a new body using random corpse parts; the resulting patchwork corpses were his "masterpieces".
MPD Psycho features a serial killer architect who employs "human planters" to perfect the landscaping around the buildings he designs. He literally grows plants inside the brains of girls he kidnaps, then plants the whole body, with the plant growing out of the top of the head.
The cast of Princess Tutu is subject to the whims of a writer named Drosselmeyer, who has the power to make what he writes become reality and is obsessed with tragedy — even if the characters he's putting through trial after trial are real people.
Mr. 3, high-ranking member of Baroque Works from One Piece, had the ability to emit wax from his body and used it to entrap victims in interesting poses in the name of art. Similarly, his partner, Miss Goldenweek, would then paint the resulting statues. She also used her paints to create "color traps" in order to emotionally control and manipulate victims. While the two of them, want to eliminate their targets in the most stylish way they can, them being artists, they (or at least Mr. 3) are cunning enough to have been promoted in their organization above physically superior fighters.
A more direct example is Jora of the Donquixote Pirates. She has the power of the Art-Art Fruit, which allows her to turn anybody or anything into her artistic vision. In addition to instantly nullifying the effects of any weaponry and most Devil Fruit powers once they become afflicted by her creativity, she can embed opponents into her works of art, killing them and turning them into part of her "permanent collection."
In Rosario + Vampire, the art teacher is secretly a medusa, and essentially seduces girls into stripping down and posing pretty before turning them to stone. Much like one of the above examples, this is especially creepy because they're clearly still conscious... Tsukune realizes something is wrong when he notices one of them crying.
Ena of Shikabane Hime was a mentally unstable portrait painter in life; in death, he exists only to create incredible beauty. Pity he's utterly deranged about it.
Any time Hideshi Hino "hosts" one of his semi-autobiographical manga stories. The titular Panorama of Hell (as well as the rest of his paintings) is painted with the artist's own blood while his inspiration comes from the refuse and bloated animal (and occasionally human) corpses in the nextdoor River of Hell. While Hino's real life childhood probably wasn't as bad as described (for instance, it's doubtful his grandmother actually became a chicken), it obviously wasn't very nice either.
Marchello Orlando of Le Portrait De Petit Cossette murders his young fiance in order to eternally preserve her youthful beauty (and her family, too, just because).
D.N.Angel: The whole alter-ego thing STARTED because of Satoshi's ancestors becoming obsessed with a very strange god-complex in which Art Initiates Life and they are interrupted mid-life-giving-ceremony of the Koku Yoku (Dark and Krad), in which everything explodes. Including the Niwa ancestor's arms and legs. Owch. It is stated that the Hikari ancestors were mentally unstable to begin with, creating dangerous art pieces such as Argentine who kidnapped Risa because he wanted her heart. Literally.
No, Argentine didn't literally want Risa's heart. He wanted her to teach him how to have a heart so he could give one to Qualia. He didn't really seem to realize that a 'heart' also was an organ. It was more a concept to him.
Eiji Kise of Psyren sees himself as an artist. Everyone else sees him as an insane killer.
Rurouni Kenshin - Gein sees himself as an artist. Everyone else (including the people he was allied with) considers him creepy.
Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny. While in prison, he paints a huge mural of a skull made from a forest scene on the wall of his cell.
Yuri Tokikago's father from Mawaru-Penguindrum. His creations were seemingly normal (save for a huge tower in the shape of Michelangelo's David, or something), but he was so obsessed with beauty and aesthetics that he heavily scarred Yuri with his chisels to "make her perfect". He may have molested/raped the poor little girl as well.
Kayaba Akihiko of Sword Art Online is a Mad Game Designer, trapping twenty-thousand people in a virtual-reality MMO where anyone who dies, dies in real life, and the only way to escape is to defeat the final boss.
Minor example was the one-shot villain and manga artist Chitaro Ariga from Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL. (Not truly mad, and he was actually a decent artist. He was just a Brainwashed and Crazy pawn of the real villain.)
The Joker, to varying degrees in one Batman adaptation or another. The comic version definitely is, if stand-up comedy is considered "art", as his constant goal is to make people laugh as he kills them.
In the Tim Burtonmovie he describes himself as a homicidal artist. He shows a perverse delight in Vicki Vale's graphic war photos, telling her that she gives it all such a glow. She is definitely not appreciative of the "living work of art" that he shows off to her (Alicia, Jack Napier's girlfriend, who has been physically and emotionally scarred such that she has to wear a mask as a result of what the Joker did to her).
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell includes mad graffiti artist Doodlebug, who makes his paint from human blood, which he uses as part of a long-running plot to free a bunch of demons trapped beneath Arkham Asylum.
In the DCU, Thanagarian artists often complete their "life's work" by killing themselves and a lot of innocent people with them.
The titular character from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is implied to have once been a rather talented artist who lost his creativity, and subsequently went completely insane.
Nail Bunny actually implies that Johnny was messed up before losing his ability, and still did horrible things to people, but for different reasons. The fact that the thing-behind-the-wall is sapping his creativity might be worsening his condition, but only because he was seriously messed up to begin with. The process usually just drives people to suicide, as Senor Diablo points out, not murder.
There's also Jhonen Vasquez, the creator of Johnny. While not nearly as psychotic as his creation, he does have hypnophobia, and throws around terms such as "Moose", "Meat", and "Chihuahua" in his creations. Of course, there's also the matter of what he hascreated
Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol includes several mad artists. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, one of Crazy Jane's 64 personalities, creates living paintings. The Brotherhood of Dada isn't so much a team of villains as a troupe of anarchistic performance artists, which leads to their quest for The Painting That Ate Paris.
In Grant Morrison's Animal Man run, one story had an alien artist from Hawkman's world, who created an orb that displayed psychic images from his life. The psychic output is strong enough to threaten the world.
Then there's King Mob's gang in The Invisibles (also by Grant Morrison)
Ironically the character who flirted most closely with true insanity was Ragged Robin, whose contributions to KM's cell rarely involved a body count, and whose influence helped convince King Mob to dial down his (always ambivalent) urge toward gunplay and mayhem.
"I'm an artist! I can't be expected to work on antipsychotics!"
"I like to work to music. Sexy disco hot."
Gilded Lily, in Alpha Flight, married men and turned them into gold statues.
The Swedish comic James Hund featured an art critic serial killer; he kills people he thinks produces worthless "pseudo-art" by means reflecting their work - so for instance, a man that makes wooden sculptures then saws them apart is, well... They set a trap for him by portraying a man as a "neo-brutalist" who creates paintings by shooting intestines with a shotgun at canvas. Alone. At night. On top of a deserted building...
Lisa Molinari, a.k.a. Coat of Arms, creates her own version of the Young Avengers as an art project examining the nature of superheroism. Lisa is a True Neutral person whose only interest in superheroism is artistic. Besides herself, this team included two genuinely good people, a Punisher wannabe, a size-changing neo-Nazi, and a robot that said neo-Nazi reprograms to have views similar to her own. She is also a fan of Norman Osborn.
She later appears in Avengers Academy helping Jeremy Briggs remove and redistribute all superpowers in the world because she thinks it will be a piece of "performance art" even greater than the Civil War.
Steve Ditko did a The Question story about a charlatan modern artist who hated uplifting and high-quality historic artworks, who dressed up as one of his own ugly, sludgy-looking sculptures to become an art-vandalizing supervillain.
Crazy Quilt, Robin's Silver Age archenemy, was originally an artist who turned to crime and used clues hidden in his paintings to taunt crimefighters. Then, after being blinded by a gunshot wound, he had experimental surgery that restored his sight... but allowed him to only see in insanely bright colors, driving him insane.
Lighthearted example was the art-themed villain the Impressionist in The Tick. His roommate called him crazy in one issue. (At the time, the Impressionist was trying to eat a paint omelet.) The villain's reply??
Inpressionist: "I am not crazy! I am an artist! Was Michelangelo crazy? Was Renoir crazy? Was Van Gogh crazy? OK, bad example, but still.."
"Accidents and Old Lace" in Tales from the Crypt #43 featured three elderly ladies who produced some rather striking tapestries shortly after witnessing a violent accidental death - an "accidental" death caused by their pushing the victim in front of a moving vehicle, that is...
The Necrotists, from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, are basically an entire artistic movement made up of Mad Artists. They believe murder is the only true form of creativity, and use their victims to make their 'creations'.
The villain in Freaked manages to combine this and For Science!. He uses his "TastyFreekz Machine" to create concoctions that horribly (and ridiculously) mutate people, because he sees it as an art form.
"I can look at a guy like Mick Jagger, and see a pillbug that can fart the Blue Danube!"
In House of 1000 Corpses, Otis B. Driftwood uses his abductees' bodies to make tableau-sculptures. And rants impressively at them about being an Artist in Torment.
In Kick-Ass, the Anti-Hero Big Daddy could be considered one. In the apartment where he and Hit Girl live, one of the walls is covered in comic-book villain style pictures of the Big Bad. His obsession with vengeance is not unwarranted, as the man had framed Big Daddy as a drug dealer, putting him in jail for 5 years, which drove his pregnant wife to suicide.
Lukey, the eccentric and violent artist from the concluding parts of Odd Man Out (1943), is an alcoholic version of this trope, creating religious-styled paintings of tortured souls with bulging eyes and setting them on fire when he's unhappy with them. Ultimately he tries to paint the film's protagonist, who is dying from gunshot wounds, as he sits bleeding to death, to get a glimpse into the "human soul". And fails.
In the film A Double Life, the lead character (a noted stage actor) gets so far into the characters he plays that his whole day-to-day personality is overwritten. This is bad news when he plays Othello.
The film Stranger Than Fiction plays with this, and splits it into two parts. Karen Eiffel, the author, isn't aware that the protagonist of her tragedy is going to die in real life, but she certainly acts a bit Mad, loitering in the emergency room of a hospital and complaining that nobody's dying; another character who's a fan of hers fits the "sees life as incidental next to Art" bit, advising the hero not to try to avert his doom because it makes such a good story. He actually manages to persuade him, but the author changes her mind and lets him live.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume has a superhuman sense of smell, but no scent of his own. Believing that "the soul of beings is their scent," he decides to create the perfect perfume by capturing and combining the scents of beautiful young women. It turns out that he must kill the women in order to capture their scent, turning his artistic quest into a murder spree.
Fashion designers are portrayed this way so often it could be an entire subtrope. A prime example would be Will Ferrell's magnificently over-the-top Mugatu, from Zoolander—who, ironically, seems to be an Only Sane Man in that he realizes Zoolander only has one look.
"I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"
Another example of the fashion designer variety: Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatians (both versions) thought that designing and wearing a coat made of a hundred dead puppies would be absolutely fabulous.
The Truman Show's Christof is far more concerned about his reputation as an artistic boundary-pushing genius director than about the ethics of never letting someone know that his entire life is televised for the world's entertainment.
The main character in Roger Corman's Bucket Of Blood gains recognition in the Beatnik art community with a dead cat covered in clay. He works his way up from there...
Antonio, the brilliant flamenco dancer and choreographer in Carlos Saura's Carmen, becomes obsessed with the young woman dancing the lead in his new production, Carmen. Her name? Carmen. Let's just say that Life Imitates Art.
Evelyn from The Shape of Things:
"As for me, I have no regrets, no feelings of remorse for my actions, the manufactured emotions— none of it. I have always stood by the single and simple conceit...that I am an artist, only that. There is... only art."
Jimmy in Art School Confidential. He paints pictures of his murder victims and incorporates mementoes he took from the actual body.
Irving Wallace, the killer in the Slasher MovieStageFright -Aquarius- is hinted to be one. After disposing everyone in theater (except the Final Girl, whom he somehow forgot), he starts organizing the bodies into a bizarre display. After he is done, he sits down in the middle of it and starts stroking the local caretaker's cat.
Michael Myers also seems to occasionally "admire" how he kills, and displays, his victims.
In the 1989 version of Batman, The Joker describes himself as "the worlds first, fully functioning homicidal artist" and reveals his girlfriend Felicia as one of his "masterpieces".
The discovery of art therapy is shown in Bound for Glory: Woody Guthrie is approached by an escapee from an insane asylum, who says he sees "news reels" in his head. He complains of seeing images of people suffering from from the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, to which Woody replies, "Ain't nuthin' wrong with your head!" Then Woody hands him paintbrushes and coaches him to paint the "newsreels" he sees in his head, so that the troubled man calms down and becomes an artist.
The Radix: The Knight paints scenes of death of the Christian martyrs using unwilling models. "Pain was beautiful. It inspired him."
Boday from Jack Chalker's series "Riders Of The Wind", who turns girls into living pieces of art for the rich clients. It's somewhat a stretch to call her evil (she travels with the main characters, and becomes more of a good character by the end of the series), but she's still quite insane (third-person speaking included).
David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series of novels has Ben Sheppard, a schizophrenic genius who straddles the line between For Science! and For Art. He throws himself into improving his new virtual reality artistic medium while civilization is tearing itself apart, sees a bandit raid as a chance to improve his artistic skills by observing their slaughter, and openly scoffs at the idealistic goals of his more outward-looking counterpart Kim Ward.
In Susan Cooper's young-adult fantasy novel Greenwitch, the unnamed villain is a painter who produces brilliant but evil art. It is even described at one point as being 'twisted but good', implying a clear talent even as it disturbs the viewer.
Since his paintings can literally be used to cast spells, an 'old method' which Merriman notes he had forgotten existed, that makes this one of the few literal examples of Dark Arts. Some of this originality, though, may be undermined by the painter in question living in a Gypsy caravan which apparently is a mark of his actual racial heritage. (He even attempts to use the grail—no, not thatgrail, though it is 'made after the fashion of' it — as a scrying device.)
The MacGuffin in Robert Asprin's novel Myth Directions is a hideous metal toad sculpture, the last piece done by a sculptor named Watgit "before" he went mad.
The Discworld story Thud! features the mad artist Methodia Rascal, painter of "The Battle of Koom Valley", who spent the last few years of his life thinking he was being pursued by a giant chicken.
Or that he was a giant chicken. He appears to have tried talking in Chicken, and even wrote some of his diary-like notes partly in Chicken.
Or possibly both. He was a Mad Artist after all. If you can't handle the idea of being afraid of a giant chicken and actually being the giant chicken you have no business appearing in this trope.
He died with chicken feathers stuffed down his throat. After writing "AWK! AWK! IT COMES!"
Owlswick Jenkins from Making Money forged stamps because he liked the delicate details they had, but was prosecuted. Moist springs him from jail, and after some ordeal, gets him to design bank notes.
He was really impressed by the way the forged stamps actually had more detail than the printing process on the real stamps was capable of.
Optus Warhole, in Enki Bilal's trente-deux décembre. His ?compression de mort éructée? happening uses the bodies of soldiers killed at war, and ends in slaughter.
Subverted in the second Skulduggery Pleasant book. There is a wizard who considers himself to be redefining murder as an art form. The only problem is that his descriptions are rather childish, and he hasn't actually killed anyone (and is overall quite inept).
Richard Pickman from H.P. Lovecraft's Pickman's Model. He's an artist who is obsessed with painting grotesque pictures, and can produce extremely lifelike and frightening portraits of inhuman monsters because he uses real ghouls as his models.
Also Erich Zann from The Music of Erich Zann, who certainly seems somewhat crazy. He spends most of his time locked up in his apartment, playing his cello, and doesn't let anybody else hear him play. He does that because he believes that his music is the only thing that keeps Eldritch Abominations from entering our dimension through his bedroom window. This being Lovecraft, he turns out to be right.
Not to mention Cthulhu himself induces mad artistry around the world when the stars are right for his rising.
One of Dorothy L. Sayers' Peter Wimsey stories, "The Man With the Copper Fingers," featured a sculptor who disposed of his murdered girlfriend by dipping her into his bronze-plating solution, thus turning her into a statue.
Caster and his new buddy Ryuunosuke in Fate/Zero. Sometimes they artistically murder people, but the cake winner for squick has to be the giant cavern filled with people who had their organs turned into musical instruments. There's an organ made on squeezing intestine sections for the screams of the victim. Rider notes that a lot of them are still alive...technically.He fixes that.
Carol O'Connell's crime novel Killing Critics is full of them, and the one who turns out to be the killer isn't the maddest.
Possibly the original namer for this trope, Horace gives this description of the "Mad Poet" in the Ars Poetica, making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
It's far from clear why he keeps writing poetry. Has the villain pissed on his father's ashes? Or disturbed the grim site of a lightning strike? Anyway, he's raving, and his harsh readings put learned and unlearned alike to flight, like a bear that's broken the bars of his cage. If he catches anyone, he holds on and kills him with reading. He's a real leech that won't let go of the skin till it's full of blood.
From J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion: Fëanor probably falls somewhere between this and Mad Scientist, being an incredibly talented craftsman who becomes more or less insane after his greatest works are stolen (though he was already slightly unhinged due to a particularly bad case of Missing Mom.) His son Maglor definitely falls into this: he's a Warrior Poet who commits atrocities and ends up wandering along the seashore singing laments.
Maglor was probably the least mad of Fëanor's sons - he was mostly convinced to commit the atrocities by his brothers and deeply regrets all he's done (hence the laments). Some versions of Daeron might fit better.
From Dean Koontz' Relentless, we have Shearman Waxx, a book critic obsessed with destroying any writer who dares veer away from the postmodern, deconstructionist philosophy... to the point that, should they keep writing after he trashes them in a review, he will hunt them down, destroy everything they own, murder their loved ones while forcing them to watch, then finally torturing them to death. As it turns out, he is just one of an entire rogue black-ops bureaucracy dedicated to the cause, as a way to control and steer the popular culture to a more "ideal"... Nietzchean... end. Subverted in the fact that, as a writer, Waxx himself is an abysmal hack, using boilerplate quotes and recycled turns of phrase in all his reviews.
Another Koontz novel, Velocity, deals with a crazed performance artist named Valis, who sends written ultimatums to the protagonist rhetorically asking which people he should kill. The protagonist correctly surmises that Valis sees his crimes as work of art and eventually tracks him down, leading to a deranged monologue from Valis.
Navarth from The Demon Princes saga is referred to as "the Mad Poet," though his works are well-known and fashionable.
In The Gargoyle, Marianne Engel carves her grotesques with a manic obsession, eschewing food and sleep for days and days on end, leading to repeated hospitalizations and commitments. She believes that she is giving away her "thousands of hearts," and will die once she has given away the last one. Which she does.
She is portrayed as a definite 'good guy', as she's the narrator's love interest and the one who not only helps him after he's been burned to near death, get over his raging ego and get him off his drugs.
One of the major signs that society has completely screwed itself over in Otherland is that serial killers are revered as "forced involvement artists." (A subplot involves a less murderous artist calling a serial killer a hack for making art of others' deaths rather than his own, and challenging him to a dual suicide, to be judged by posterity. The killer doesn't respond to the challenge, but shortly afterwards, he's hit by a car. Nobody's sure whether it was a murder, a suicide, or an accident—and ironically, he does create "art" by raising such a question.
Erasmus of the Dune series is a robot independent of Big BadOmnius whose job is to understand human behavior. In studying art, he has murdered human slaves and used their parts as subjects of paintings.
"Bad Wolf", already a parody of reality TV, had a futuristic version of What Not To Wear hosted by two robots with, er... unconventional fashion ideas.
Trin-E: I think he'd look good with a dog's head.
Zu-Zana: Or maybe no head at all! That would be so outrageous.
Trin-E: And then we could stitch your legs to the middle of your chest.
Zu-Zana: Nothing is too extreme.
The main villain of "Paradise Towers" was Kroagnon, an insane, intellectually-snobbish architect who filled his buildings with booby-traps to kill anyone who tried to actually use them and "spoil" their aesthetic beauty.
The Doctor meets Vincent Van Gogh in "Vincent and the Doctor". While Vincent's mentally ill, he isn't dangerous.
The remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) had Gordon Stylus. Making sculptures out of frozen urine is actually among the saner things he does; by the end of the episode, he's murdered both his wife and Marty Hopkirk, tries to kill Jeff by dunking him in resin, and is seen wearing his wife's wedding dress and wielding a chainsaw.
Parodied in Spaced — on first appearances, Brian Topp seems to be the kind of weird, creepy and intensely psycho artist who ends up making art out of people's skins, but he's actually completely harmless and quite normal (relatively speaking, that is); he's actually just incredibly shy, rather pretentious, and somewhat angsty for reasons that are never quite explained.
Actually they did explain, it is because he saw his dog ran over as a child. "Such vibrant colors..."
Several characters played by Julian Barrett, including Julian from Asylum and Howard from The Mighty Boosh. The above mentioned Brian Topp of Spaced was originally written for Barrett.
In The Adventures Of Sinbad, Sinbad and his crew encounter a sculptor with a lot of female statues, which Sinbad notes on the lack of any seeming tool marks. Turns out the "sculptor" had a magic glove that turned anything he touch to marble and had been using girls that he lured into his mansion to become his "art" after sedating them. The only way to free the girls? Sinbad turns glove onto its user.
One episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation revolved around a serial murderer who killed people and used rigor mortis to pose them in the poses of his sketches, then placed them around the city.
The episode "The Execution of Catherine Willows" introduces a serial killer who kills once every 15 years, and later is revealed to make detailed drawings of his victims just before he kills them.
The Great Gonzo from The Muppet Show. Not evil like many other examples, but definitely crazy. (What goes on between Gonzo and all those chickens, when the camera isn't on?)
Criminal Minds has the killer in "True Night", a comic book artist who is basing his art on his murders. He's arguably a subversion though, as he doesn't even realise he's been killing; he's on a psychotic break and has lost a lot of his grasp on reality.
The character James Franco plays in his reoccurring guest role on the soap opera General Hospital fits this. The character, nicknamed Franco, is a artist, sociopath and serial killer who artistically depicts crime scene reenactments and is obsessed with murder and death as an art form.
The second season opener of the anthology series The Hunger ("Sanctuary") has Julian Priest (David Bowie), whose fascination with/resentment of death manifested itself in increasingly grisly and shocking performance art — one piece had him surgically strip away a large piece of skin from his lower arm — that led to outrage and shunning. Encountering a young man on the run for the murder of Julian's agent, he decides he'd make the perfect subject for his next work...the madness runs so deep that the stranger is all in his head. Julian was the murderer and he's actually killing himself — since turning his demise into a work of art will bring him the immortality he craves. The ghost of Julian goes on to host the rest of the series. (This is not Bowie's first encounter with this trope — see Music below.)
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Angelus believed that killing and torturing (and evil, in general) should be an artform. Drusilla was what you might call an extended performance piece. He is known to be the most vicious vampire ever recorded in the history of the Buffyverse.
One Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode had an artist who killed women and sketched them as a way to deal with his feelings about the women who'd abused him his whole life. Goren eventually catches him by pointing out that the other artist whom he got to photograph the corpses had touched them up to make the women look angelic, ruining the "integrity" of the work. This causes the killer to flip out and incriminate himself.
One Zodiart in Kamen Rider Fourze is a painter who is making a drawing of Mt. Fuji as a Christmas gift for a class of young children. Unfortunately, he attacks and turns to stone anyone who breaks his concentration, even damaging a building because he thinks it's disrupting his view.
On Season 1 of Dexter, the Big Bad Ice Truck Killer would display the neat, bloodless body parts of his victims in an artistic manner that wins Dexter's admiration. Vince would later compare the Ice Truck Killer to an artist.
In Season 2, Lila is an eccentric artist who works with items that she steals. She's also a pyromaniac and a Stalker with a Crush for Dexter.
The X-Files featured a mad artist or two, most notably the episode, "Grotesque", in which a sculptor and later, one of the cops trying to catch him, became possessed by a desire to kill people and encase their bodies in clay gargoyle sculptures.
There are at least a couple of Tales from the Crypt episodes centered around Mad Artists. One of them was about an artist who killed people and used their blood in his paintings and another featured a young female artist (whose work bordered on the grotesque) killing her sugar daddy husband and turning him into soap.
In Castle, a fan of the title character's mystery novels murders people and writes novels about it. He targets Detective Beckett because she is the inspiration for Castle's "Nikki Heat" franchise.
In the episode of House titled "Moving On" there was performance artist Afsoun Hamidi, who on introduction was willing to let herself be set on fire during one of her performances. She then purposely manipulated her own symptoms in order to draw House's attention to her case.
Frasier: Caitlin in "Frasier Gotta Have It". She makes collages out of dead mice and stuffs pillows with human hair.
The Following: Joe Carroll, Gothic literature scholar, mediocre writer, Serial Killer and Cult Leader. He looks at his killing spree as a performance art piece. He also encourages his Followers to come up with their own signature murder style and carry out their crimes with as much dramatic flair as possible. It's implied that his failure as a writer helped to spur him onto murderous insanity; basically, it helped him find the best medium for his talents.
According to Hannibal, the Baltimore area has a worrying supply of inventive serial killers ready to turn human bodies into nearly anything; this includes "angels", string instruments, a giant totem pole, beehives, or a mural in the shape of an eye. Most of them leave their work on display, while the title character turns his victims into lavishly-prepared meals - which he regularly serves to his friends.
The plot of David Bowie's 1. Outside album is apparently about a mad artist kidnapping and murdering a colleague as a work of art.
Not a colleague, but the adopted child of said colleague. However, she could only have adopted that child because she killed her biological mother several years before - apparently.
Originally intended as the beginning of a concept-album trilogy — a murder mystery involving a serial killer artist, and told in a non-linear style.
Bowie's fascination with the trope goes back at least to the late seventies. His song "Joe the Lion" is inspired by the frequently self-injurious performance art projects Chris Burden was doing at the time.
Pink of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is a talented musician who lets fame, copious drug use, and a fatherless upbringing drive him a little off the deep end. He finds himself isolated from everyone, particularly his estranged wife, women in general, and his fans, has elaborate drug-fueled fantasies of himself as a fascist leader, trashes hotel rooms, and is generally self-destructive. The ending implies that he gets at least somewhat better.
In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Nosferatu clanbook mentioned some of them making an art out of killing, intentionally employing tropes from slasher movies when stalking their victims.
The Toreador antitribu of the Sabbat follow a similar path. Like their cousins in the Camarilla, they're absolutely fascinated by beauty and defined by art... it's just, their definition of "beauty" and "art" has been altered to include "a masterfully executed flaying."
Vampire: The Requiem has the Architects of the Monolith, a bloodline of the Ventrue who believe in Geometric Magic and think cities have power. Combine the general tendency of the Ventrue to go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs under mounting odds with blood sorcery that allows them to draw strength from the city, and...
In Dungeons & Dragons some races, especially non-humanoid, have whole disturbing forms of art. E.g. one supplement described beholders' art — unsurprisingly, visual and Eye Beams-based: disintegration-carved stone sculptures and installations of petrified victims in various expressive poses. And sometimes one is combined with the other.
Depending on the Writer, Medusas can be like this, displaying the remains of their victims like groteque museums. The 2nd Edition versions were a bit more sensible, however; their entry in the rulebook stated that most of them didn't do this, seeing as a lair full of such statues would likely make it obvious what sort of creature lived there, scaring potential prey away.
Estriss: This determination to push the horizons of art for art's sake ultimately explains the rare occurrence of reigar. Simply put, they went a bit too far.
Teldin: A bit too —
Estriss: They blew up their homeworld. And that is another issue. If the reigar were to gain control of the Spelljammer, they would regard the ship as little more than a base for artistic experiments. Given the reigar's penchant for excess, it is an appalling prospect.
In the Eberron setting, while nobody really understand whythe Daelkyr like to conquer planets and horribly mutate the local inhabitants, Word of God leans towards this interpretation- the Daelkyr aren't conquerors but artists, and destroying worlds is simply a form of art to them.
Followers of Slaanesh in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 exhibit shades of this at the least, and prefer to go the horror route in subject matter and medium.
There's also an alien species mentioned in the background that has this as their hat. They consider everything, including war, as an artform. As a result, they tend to go to battle wearing brightly colored armor with weapons shooting technicolor deathrays and have battle plans designed to create the most artistic result, even if it would mean that they would lose.
And John Blanche, the chief artist for Games Workshop, is honestly, truly, fucked in the head.
Kimbery in Exalted is an enormous Mood-Swinger whose Excellency can specifically enhance any attempt to create "disturbing art", which explicitly includes things like particularly picturesque blood splatters.
A relatively benign example is Willy Wonka in the 2013 musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the original novel and most adaptations he's a Mad Scientist of confectionery; here that trope is melded with this one to explain why his factory has such strange sights as the Chocolate Room, which beyond its chocolate-mixing waterfall has no practical, money-making purpose. His song "Simply Second Nature" reveals that he is driven to create beautiful things to liven up the world, and where some artists might use paint or clay to do so, he uses candy.
Sander Cohen, the radio and stage personality and spliced-out freak from BioShock who lurks in Fort Frolic. He apparently went from writing propaganda for Andrew Ryan to gems like forcing a man to play a piano rigged with explosives, turning people into plaster sculptures, and forcing the player to kill four of his disciples-turned-rivals and take photos of their corpses. His madness may not stem from his art, but they definitely run together at the time of the game.
"I want to take the ears off, but I can't.
I hop, and when I hop, I never get off the ground.
It's my curse, my eternal curse!
I want to take the ears off but I can't!
It's my curse! It's my fucking curse!
I want to take the ears off! Please! Take them off! Please!"
— The Wild Bunny, by Sander Cohen
The best part? According to Bioshock Infinite's Burial At Sea DLC, he was just as loony BEFORE he was spliced up.
The game also features Dr. Steinman, a plastic surgeon who went crazy from ADAM abuse and started to fancy himself "Surgery's Picasso". Keep in mind that he's referring to technique, as well as level of genius.
Steinman: I try to make them beautiful, but they always turn out wrong! This one - too fat! That one - too tall! This one - too symmetrical!
When you first meet Kent in Dead Rising, he's merely an egotist photographer who challenges Frank to take specific pictures of him. The second time you meet him, he demands an "erotic" photo, showing a bad side. By the third time you meet him, he's clearly lost his mind, and is preparing to hand over an innocent human to a zombie so that he can photograph the moment of zombie transformation. At this point, Frank interrupts and attacks him (appropriately enough, he's a boss fight - bosses in Dead Rising are called "Psychopaths"). Kent's last request is that you photograph his corpse.
Vincent Van Gore from Luigi's Mansion would likely count under this (as well as Art Initiates Life). An obvious parody of Van Gogh, he's apparently never sold a painting in his lifetime, kept painting long after death and brought numerous ghosts to life from the artwork in his studio. And set about 30 of them on Luigi, mook rush style. Funnily enough, he's painting the key you get from defeating him when you actually fight him.
Mr. Mechanical from Freedom Force. Though at first glance he may look like your average Mad Scientist villain, he is actually a disgraced architect (real name Clyde DeWitt) who was laughed out of the profession after one of his avant-garde buildings collapsed a week after it was unveiled. Insisting the building was sabotaged by petty and inferior minds, jealous and incapable of appreciating his works, he unleashes an army of giant robots (apparently designed by him with the help of Big Bad Timemaster) to destroy the city and its "hideous designs". And when the heroes defeat those, he jumps in an even BIGGER robot and goes on a rampage trying to destroy schools and hospitals while blathering on how he's superior to Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright. He's quite entertaining.
Mr. Mechanical: All architects before me only knew how to build...create...only I'm bold enough to destroy!
Illbleed has Michael Reynolds, a horror movie director who apparently though the only fitting tribute to his work was a booby-trapped, monster-infested Amusement Park of Doom.
The Maestro from City of Heroes - a famed singer who lost his voice, went crazy, and was offered a new voice by The Council. His new voice will Break Your Bones. By the time you meet him, he's a boss-class supervillain who uses sonic attacks and complains about you interrupting his 'symphony'.
Also, Malaise - he's an artistic psychic with illusion powers who's only heroic when he's been taking his medication. He finally makes a permanent Face Heel Door Slam in the "Who Will Die?" arc, before dying.
Many players of Dwarf Fortress take on this sort of role during megaprojects or killing sprees.
Many dwarves themselves go temporarily insane in "strange moods" and create a masterwork sword (or statue, or bed, or earring, or ballista component, or...) that is covered in decorative images and menaces with spikes of several different materials, including rubies and silk. The darkest kind of mood involves them butchering another dwarf and making an artifact from the corpse.
From the popular LP of this game, Boatmurdered, Sankis becomes one of these after retiring as overseer of the fortress, making engravings about various things that had been happening around the fortress, including elephants killing dwarves, burning goblins, cheese, and homages to other images of cheese.
Reijek Hidesman, the serial-killing tanner in Baldur's Gate 2, talks about how his work has only one place to go, ending in a coat of human skin that can be converted into really, really creepy leather armor with silver dragon blood.
The first game has a mad gnome who has somehow gotten control of basilisks and uses them to make statues. Fortunately for everyone involved, he is hanging out a fair bit from any roads or inhabited places, and he doesn't seem very proactive in acquiring new statues unless they come to him.
The second killer in Kara no Shoujo cuts girls up because he feels he needs their bodies in order to make some 'art.' Though it's subverted when it turns out he's insane and trying to revive his mother. But that's how it's initially presented. However, his father did go insane some years before, kills his lover and use her body as a model for his masterpiece. When he was sane again, he though of his piece as the work of a depraved lunatic.
Fate EXTRA: (Your) Saber is not just a very good swordswoman, she's also a mad artist whose Noble Phantasm, Aestus Domus Aurea, is the manifestation of her derangement and delusion of grandeur. Justified, because she is Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. See also Real Life section, below.
Hatoful Boyfriend's Anghel Higure is a kind and sweethearted amateur (and Giftedly Bad) manga-ka who sees the world through hallucinations of a fantasy JRPG universe and believes himself to be the fallen guardian angel of an imprisoned warrior goddess (guess). He may ramble, but he's a benevolent example of this trope.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: The Big Bad, Yuga, has the power to transform people into paintings, and sees the act of doing so as a form of art. Fittingly, he considers beautiful young girls like Seres and Zelda to be masterpieces, while he considers Link to be very plain, even ugly.
The first Parasite from The Cat Lady is a doctor that uses his victim's skin and body parts to recreate famous works of art.
Xxxyyy, an artist in the far future setting of Starslip Crisis, tries to put forth her post-post-postmodern views on art, by a performance piece. That involves blowing up the battleship/art museum on which the comic strip is set.
Other highlights include a collage made from wings of an endangered (now extinct) species of bat, a design where she walked into a restaurant and punched people, a painting that was actually an earlier painting of hers (thus making it even more profound) and, as a display of her genius, spontaneously crafted an extensive tableau out of Vanderbeam's pure and unadulterated fear.
Subverted in that she's trying to get people to call her out as an attention-seeking hack. She tried it on the wrong ship.
TC: I AM GOING TO MOTHERFUCKING KILL ALL YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.
TC: and paint the wicked pictures with your motherfuckin blood.
TC: FROM YOUR VEINS WILL DRIP MY MIRACLES.
TC: your crushed bones will make my special stardust.
Actually a subversion. He's only a psychopath when he's sane, and spent the majority of the story in a Sopor-slime-induced haze. Or maybe he was just always insane and that just kept him functionally insane.
The Princess 99: Eulalie, a character whose present twice in the paperback version (and only once in the online version) is an Inkwitch who can make her painted creations come to life. She's also batshit, though its justified since she's spent most of her life in an insane asylum.
The Music Meister from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. A choir student who discovered that he was capable of singing at a pitch that hypnotically controls peoples' actions. He grew up, using this power to command people into doing crime for him. His episode has him attempting to use a satellite to project his song around the entire world, enslaving the world's populace into A: becoming one gigantic musical under his command, and B: stealing for him.
Splatter Phoenix from Darkwing Duck, who could enter paintings or bring them to life. Ultimately defeated by turpentine, oddly enough.
Metalocalypse is made of this, including the Five-Man Band and a majority of the other artists that they run into. Despite his stage appearance, Leonard Rockstein A.K.A. "Dr. Rockzo the Rock n' Roll Clown" is fairly normal when he's not on cocaine. Of course, he's always on cocaine.
In an episode of The Simpsons parodying True Art Is Incomprehensible, Homer is taken for a literal mad artist from the result of his frustrated rage when trying to build a barbecue. After that burns out, for his next work he floods the entirety of Springfield. To rave reviews!
In one round of Ozzy and Drix, a beatnik guy was up to tricks. A mean cholesterol sublime, he dressed in black and spoke in rhyme. He zeroed in on Hector's heart so he could get an early start to make his great "disasterpiece," of which he'd name it "Heart Disease."
note: Some examples here could have been dramatized, read with a grain of salt.
Swedish artist Anna Odell got famous and heavily debated for faking psychosis and suicide attempt while a student in art school. This was revealed to be part of her project for graduation, and turned into an exhibition. The artist herself has suffered real mental illness and spent time in the psych ward, and she said that her ambition was to expose psychiatry, where things are often conducted behind locked doors, for everyone to see.
While filming Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Kinski suddenly became enraged at a noisy cardgame being played in a nearby tent, so he took a pistol and fired three shots into the tent, blowing off the tip of a crewman's finger. Later, when Kinski threatened to walk off the set, Herzog showed him a rifle and told him that if he tried to leave, Herzog would shoot him, then turn the gun on himself. Kinski stayed. The legend of this incident turned the story into Herzog directing Kinski at gunpoint.
While filming Fitzcarraldo, Kinski's frequent outbursts and tantrums so shocked the natives performing as extras that a group of them met with Herzog and offered to kill him. Herzog politely declined.
Herzog once said that if Errol Morris ever completed his documentary about pet cemeteries, Gates of Heaven, he'd eat his shoe. Morris did, and Herzog did.
During an interview for his film Grizzly Man, a crazed fan opened fire on Herzog with an air rifle. After being hit, Herzog commented, "Oh, someone's shooting. We must go." Once inside, he continued the interview while bleeding from the wound, saying, "It is not a significant bullet. I am not afraid."
It’s questionable whether they really are insane. Certainly Kinski was a prima donna, and they’re both outrageous egotists, but Herzog has a known reputation as a bullshitter, and it’s possible- in fact, quite likely, he’s spent the last forty years playing up the Mad Artist schtick to get people talking. I know he strictly believes that no press is the only bad press.
Alan Moore, comic book writer, worships a fictional ancient Roman deity — fictional even to the ancient Romans; believes he has met in person characters he invented; and chooses to look like Rasputin in every book jacket photo of himself ever taken.
Grant Morrison. Self-proclaimed chaos magician. Claims to have been abducted by aliens.
Warren Ellis gets there sometimes, too. Must be something in the water in England...
Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Their lead singer, "Dead", was known to carry a rotting crow with him on tours so he could huff it before shows. He had T-shirts with funeral announcements printed on them, once mutilated himself to the point of hospitalization, and used to bury his clothes for months so they'd be sufficiently decomposed for tours. Dead committed suicide in 1991, and upon discovering his corpse, Mayhem's guitarist Euronymous took pictures of it (which were later used for an album cover). He then removed shards of Dead's skull and made necklaces out of them, which he sent to bands that he deemed "worthy."
And while we're on the topic of Norwegian black metal, there's everyone's favorite mountain man Varg Vikernes, of Burzum. According to Varg, the high point of his childhood involved using a .22 to take potshots at the local McDonald's (to fight the "growing Americanization of Norway") and visiting Iraq when his father worked for Saddam. It was Varg who gave Dead the shotgun shells he used to off himself, something he laughed about years later. Varg was best friends with Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, and the two became super special church-arson pals. After Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher quit, Varg was brought into the band. However, his attitude clashed with Euronymous, and the two started to feud. This ended when Varg finally fatally stabbed Euronymous 23 times in his Oslo apartment. Varg was arrested, made a mockery of his trial, and was given the maximum 21 year sentence. While in jail, he attempted to escape twice, along with releasing two Burzum albums and declaring himself a Nazi/Skinhead/White Nationalist/Odinist/Whatever term he felt like. After his 2009 release for good behavior, Varg purchased a farm in the Norwegian mountains, where he lives as a hermit, periodically releasing new albums and giving bizarre, oftentimes unsettling interviews by correspondence. And no, he hasn't gone soft: his last major written publication was him theorizing that Anders Breivik was part of a Zionist "false flag" operation to discredit true Norwegian nationalism.
Visual Kei, not to be outdone, has provided a few examples:
hide. He was, according to most accounts, sensitive, shy, and a very kind, intelligent person, but also very troubled. He became The Alcoholic at a fairly young age, and his alcohol consumption often fed into his Hair-Trigger Temper, which led him to fight with his own bandmates and other bandmen in bars and to even randomly fight with hotel desk people in at least one infamous incident. He described experiencing mood changes similar to Bipolar 1. He also, according to Yoshiki, developed bulimia and was tormented constantly by his bodily appearance and body shape, even when it was skeletally thin. He would get into several alcohol-related accidents from burning his face on a pyro to a car accident, and finally died in a drunken accidental suicide most likely involving either an attempt at pain relief or autoerotic asphyxiation. How was he capable of doing that while being at an alcohol poisoning level of intoxication? According to the coroner's report on his death, methamphetamine, which he may have been addicted to as well.
Taiji Sawada from the same band. He was The Alcoholic, as well as having drug problems far more obvious than even hide's. He also suffered from mental illnesses (first what seemed to be depression or schizoaffective disorder or amphetamine/cocaine psychosis, then developing epilepsy after a stroke likely from his drug use) Unlike hide, he unfortunately didn't have a steadily successful career at the same time, creating some incredible art, but bouncing along rock bottom with each fall Off The Wagon including being divorced, being homeless, being attacked in a fight when he was homeless that left him with severe facial injuries, and more. He'd managed to come back to a somewhat stable career before a final apparent fall off the wagon led him to fight with his crooked manager on a flight, get arrested, and die a suspicious death in custody.
Yoshiki Hayashi could qualify, from various episodes in his life (though he seems to have any actual illnesses aside from being The Alcoholic well under control, at least publicly, as of this writing). That said, he is far more self-aware, so it's hard to tell whether his incidents and quirks (except for a few that were obviously legitimate results of mental illness) are "real" crazy, or if he plays them up to seek attention and troll the fandom. (For example, has he somehow developed Renfield Syndrome, is he an Otherkin, or is the vampire thing one big, overplayed Attention Whore joke?)
Vincent van Gogh famously cut off part of his own ear and gave it to a prostitute named Rachel with whom he was in love. When his art failed to find buyers, he shot himself in the chest, which didn't kill him until three days later.
It's now believed that he did not, in fact, shoot himself, but lied about the act to protect the actual (accidental) shooter. It would have been extremely tricky to shoot oneself in that angle, especially in an unbalanced state of mind.
Salvador Dali, though it's hard to say whether they were publicity stunts, or he was really crazy.
Claimed he christened all his paintings by ejaculating onto the canvas after they were finished.
Wore a full-body scuba suit to the opening of his New York gallery; he promptly fainted from the heat.
He often slept in a chair holding a spoon over a metal pan, and as soon as he was relaxed enough to drop the spoon, it woke him up, thereby keeping him from ever entering REM sleep and dreaming; he liked to say that this forced him to dream while awake.
Dali famously stated "I don't do drugs. I am the drug."
The Yale student who created an art installation supposedly containing blood from aborted fetuses may have been playing with this trope.
Philip K. Dick was troubled by hallucinations at many times in his life. He felt haunted by the presence of his stillborn twin sister. The first (and only) time he used LSD, he experienced at least one lifetime as a terrified early Christian in a Roman gladiatorial arena. He attributed a series of later hallucinations to an accidental vitamin overdose (because, obviously, his life-long habit of gobbling amphetamines like Pez candies couldn't have something to do with it). As time went on, he claimed that visions were beamed into his brain by any combination of Russians, evil aliens, good aliens, Richard Nixon's staff, his dead sister, a living satellite, a Gnostic deity, or the Universe trying to free itself. He wrote over 9000 pages about that, mostly in VALIS.
Adolf Hitler was an aspiring artist. His paintings of buildings were okay, but he sucked at drawing people. He later turned to extremist demagogue ideology...
This seems to be the modus operandi of Jason Nelson of secrettechnology.com
Hideaki Anno. Apparently, he told one of his actresses to choke the other actress she was working with for a take, told the singer of the ED to imagine "choking a kitten with a big smile on your face", and oh yeah, making End of Evangelion. A literal example, since he was suffering some serious depression at the time. Word has it that he's feeling better these days.
James Ellroy, whose mother's unsolved rape and murder caused him to become obsessed with violent and sexual crime. After spending his teen years as a drug-addled street thief, he entered rehab and decided to write novels as a way to share his inner demons with the world. He was also a bit weird even before the murder, and would often spy on his mother having sex.
The Marquis de Sade, who gave "sadism" its name, wrote most of his work from prison or an insane asylum. The film Quills gives a rather disturbing account of how far he would go to get his work out.
William S. Burroughs. Killing his wife while imitating William Tell certainly qualifies him.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. An inbred dwarf, Post-Impressionist, and patron of the Moulin Rouge, he was known to get into bar fights defending the artistic merits of Van Gogh. Contracting syphilis certainly didn't help him any, either.
The KLF took this trope as far as they could without murdering someone. They pelted audiences with money, "advertised" by releasing surreal manifestos, and announced their retirement from the music industry by firing a machine gun (loaded with blanks) into the crowd at a music award show and dumping a sheep carcass on stage. After that they deleted their entire back catalog, awarded a Turner Prize winner with forty thousand pounds for "worst artist of the year" after threatening to burn the money if she didn't accept it, and eventually filmed themselves burning one million pounds.
The artists of the Italian futurist movement claimed to be furiously insane and were proud of it. That is not so surprising to hear from people who stated they wanted to burn and destroy books, libraries, cemeteries, symbols of the past in general and institute a course for Italian children in which they would be exposed to increasingly dangerous threats. Not too surprisingly, they helped to inspire the Fascist movement, and many of them joined.
Quebec poet Emile Nelligan spent roughly the last 40 years of his life in an asylum.
Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" and other abilities made him one of the greatest record producers ever. He also liked to hold women at gunpoint, leading to the murder of Lana Clarkson.
Francisco Goya started by painting commissioned portraits and ended with dark, nightmarish imagery. Throughout his life, he underwent a mental breakdown, likely brought on by the lead he used to mix his paints.
Ezra Pound, described by TIME magazine as "a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children." His support of the Nazis and continued antisemitism for the rest of his life, stemming from his outrage over the pointless loss of life during World War I, has ensured his work will forever be controversial. He also suffered a complete breakdown after being kept in solitary confinement for almost a month after World War II.
Oscar Wilde was certainly perceived as insane at his trial where he just insulted the Prosecution and didn't really say anything to his own credit.
Winston Churchill who drank three scotches between breakfast and lunch alone, quaffed an entire bottle of Port before bed, only slept four hours, had a tendency to walk around naked and once turned up to a meeting wearing nothing but a pair of pink silk boxer shorts. Tended to alleviate his hellish bouts of depression by painting.
Christian Weston Chandler, creator of Sonichu, has some serious mental issues.
Doctor Jack Kervorkian, a prominent proponent of euthanasia commonly known as "Dr. Death." He was an avid painter. Some of his art is....interesting to say the least...
To some extent, Ludwig van Beethoven in his post-deafness years, possibly compounded by lead poisoning or syphilis, which itself possibly contributed to his hearing loss. Beethoven was one of the most important Trope Codifiers. Before the Romantic era, musicians and composers were generally regarded as more-or-less brilliant craftspeople, and not so much as inspired but wayward geniuses. Beethoven wasn't the first tortured composer to use music to express his emotions but he was certainly the best-known example, although he averts this trope to the extent that he wasn't actually mad.
An earlier example would be Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo who, on discovering his wife in bed with her lover, killed both of them, and went on to write some remarkably tortured madrigals about the faithlessness of women. However, Gesualdo was a Renaissance composer whose work wasn't nearly as famous as Beethoven's, so although he was clearly crazier than Beethoven, he didn't codify the trope in the same way that Beethoven did. On the other hand, his madrigals did inspire some pretty crazy music once 20th-century composers got ahold of them—rather like the almost Surrealist paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Gesualdo's madrigals are chromatic bordering on the atonal.
Poor Vaslav Nijinsky. He was a groundbreaking choreographer and one of the best male ballet dancers ever. He also suffered from schizophrenia and spent the latter half of his life in mental hospitals.
Yukio Mishima. He was a brilliant author with some very bizarre ideas. Unfortunately, not all of his eccentricities were harmless. He ended up trying to overthrow the Japanese government and reinstall Imperial Japan. When this coup failed, he and his followers committed Seppuku.
Emperor Nero apparently considered himself quite the artist. He wrote poetry and performed on the stage, and also played the lyre. His last words were "What an artist dies in me". However, he was also a malicious, insane ruler.
Gu Cheng, an extremely talented Chinese modernist poet and novelist, wrote increasingly experimental, bizarre poetry over the course of his life (idolizing spore-devouring insects, for instance), wore a cut-off leg from a pair of pants as a hat, murdered his wife with an ax and hanged himself.
Robert Dadd, a brilliant artist with a family history of mental illness, who wound up killing his own father and spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor.
Infamous cult leader and murderer Charles Manson was an aspiring musician. Some of the songs he wrote were good enough to be recorded, before and after his incarceration, by bands as notable as Guns N' Roses, Marilyn Manson (who borrowed the stage name from him), and bizarrely enough, The Beach Boys. The latter, his first break into the music industry, came about when he hung out with the Beach Boys' drummer Dennis Wilson, who offered to record his song "Never Learn Not to Love." But when Wilson altered some of the more disturbing lines of the lyrics ("Cease to exist" became "Cease to resist"), Manson flipped out and threatened to murder him. Wilson beat him up instead, but the band was rather rattled by the experience, even more so after Manson's crimes later came to light.
Camille Claudel, French sculptor. Thought Rodin was conspiring to kill her and/or steal her work, displayed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia (including hallucinations), spent the last thirty years of her life in an asylum.
Some would argue that God (or the gods) is a mad artist. The creator of the things we see would have to be a great artist, and the world may be insane enough to lead us to suspect that such a creator is a mad artist as well.
Kanye West has started to develop a reputation as one of these, with his increasingly egotistical and perfectionist tendencies.
This is all too common among Black Metal musicians. The most infamous of these include Dead and Euronymous of Mayhem, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum (who was in Mayhem at the same time as Dead and Euronymous, supplying the ammunition that Dead used to shoot himself and murdering Euronymous).
"George Lucas sits down and seriously proceeds to talk for around 25 minutes about how he thinks the world is gonna end in the year 2012, like, for real. He thinks it,"[Lucas is] going on about the tectonic plates and all the time Spielberg is, like, rolling his eyes, like, 'My nerdy friend won't shut up, I'm sorry." I first thought he was joking ... and then I totally realized he was serious and then I started thinking, 'If you're George Lucas and you actually think the world is gonna end in a year, there's no way you haven't built a spaceship for yourself, so I asked him, 'Can I have a seat on it?'"
People working with H. R. Giger invariably say that personally he's a very pleasant guy, but also note that he IS pretty weird.
Marina Abramovic, the self-entitled "grandmother of performance art" teeters the edge between this and Crazy Awesome. Her infamous work Rhythm 0 had her standing completely still in front of 72 objects (which included a feather, a rose, a whip, scissors and a gun with a single bullet) and letting the audience do whatever they wanted to her. For six hours (and yes, someone did try to fire the gun at her though another patron stopped this).
Many "outsider artists" fall into this trope, suffering from debilitating mental conditions, the most common of which are paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis. One such artist, August Natterer, was a happily married electrician before succumbing to sudden delusions and anxiety attacks. On April Fool's Day, 1907, he suffered a horrific, half-hour hallucination during which he saw over 10,000 images of the Last Judgement. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, spent the rest of his life in insane asylums, and all his artworks were renderings of those hallucinations.◊
Andy Kaufman was either a meticulous performance artist who deliberately crafted uncomfortable situations in the name of Art, or else he was genuinely a lunatic. Or both. The world may never know.
Singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston is a sad case of this, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and having spent much of his life in an out of mental hospitals. His music is noted for being beautiful but weird.