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The Spirit of Vaslav Nijinsky

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The Spirit of Vaslav Nijinsky is a short comic created in 2016, telling the story of the famed ballet star who, in 1919, suffered a mental breakdown that resulted in a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Before his breakdown, Vaslav Nijinsky was known as ‘The God of Dance’, and regarded as the greatest male ballet star of his generation. His success as a ballet dancer paired with the details of his later life often associates him with the stereotype of a genius artist succumbing to madness. The nature of live art means the majority of Nijinsky’s work no longer survives intact, with only snippets of static documentation and ephemera left in the wake of performances hinting at his genius. However, in the lead up to his diagnosis, Nijinsky left two concrete bodies of work that are now regarded as important in the field of mental health history. First are a series of abstract drawings, and second are a collection of notebooks now known as The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. Both are fascinating documents on the subject of mental illness and served as the main inspiration for the narrative of the comic. The story of Nijinsky’s life and career has become the stuff of legend because of his enigmatic quality as a historical figure. This article explores the ephemera and historical documentation associated with this fascinating yet intangible artist, and how they inspired the content, process and aesthetic of The Spirit of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Keywords: 1910s; Nijinsky; ballet; comics; diary; documentation; schizophrenia; theatre

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Illustrator

Publication date: August 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • Illustration is a rapidly evolving field with an excitingly broad scope. Despite its cultural significance and rich history, illustration has rarely been subject to deep academic scrutiny. The Journal of Illustration provides an international forum for scholarly research and investigation of a range of cultural, political, philosophical, historical, and contemporary issues, in relation to illustration. The journal encourages new critical writing on illustration, associated visual communication, and the role of the illustrator as visualizer, thinker, and facilitator, within a wide variety of disciplines and professional contexts.

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