The creative arts are a wonderful gift to humanity. Music, literature, dance and the visual arts are uplifting, evocative and inspirational. They are life’s free online casino bonuses as they have the capacity to unlock enormous pleasure… in the viewer, reader or listener.
They are also windows to the soul of the creators themselves. Works of art express the deepest desires, thoughts, belief systems and emotions of the people who create them. They are, in effect, the personal snapshots of the psyche; that complex private place that’s often veiled in secrecy and paranoia.
Artists and their Battle for Normality
Many of the most respected artists in history have grappled with the sense of self in their works. Luminaries like Jackson Pollack, Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh and EdvardMunk used their art as a means of conveying the overwhelming emotions and feelings that haunted their lives – loneliness, confusion, mania, frustration, pain and depression.
Kahlo was so obsessed with her own pain, suffering and tragic life story that she rarely painted anything else than self-portraits. In reality, her art is her pain. It’s a dazzling and colourful mirror that reflects a turbulent existence driven by infidelity, physical suffering and the anguish of having a limb amputated. Asked why her work focussed on self, Kahlo replied; “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.”
EdvardMunk’s multiple versions of ‘The Scream’ are a disturbing visual record of the Norwegian artist’s debilitating depression and the hopelessness that tormented him and eventually led to him taking his own life. Van Gogh’s vast body of work traces the development and symptoms of his bipolar disorder.
He faithfully recorded the hallucinations, mood swings, melancholy and suicidal thoughts that plagued him throughout his adult life in some of his most memorable paintings.
Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf used their chosen art form as a safety valve to let off steam when their ‘sanity’ was tested to the limit. Mozart and Van Gogh were at the most brilliantly productive when they were experiencing ‘abnormal’ or schizophrenic episodes.Art was the outlet they used to reveal their emotional and mental anguish… and we, the world, have benefitted.
Art as Therapy
Today, art is a powerful therapeutic tool. It allows people in pain to vividly express themselves without using logic or language. It’s a form of silent self-expression that helps people with mental disorders illustrate their fears, anger, despair, obsession or compulsion.They can relate the story of their illness in a way that’s comparatively effortless and non-threatening.
Art as therapy is especially useful in people who cannot or will not express their mental and emotional trauma in words. It helps them explore their emotions, manage their addictions and boost their confidence and self-esteem. Therapeutic art is an all-in-one elixir that has no equal and no nasty side effects typical of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), anti-depressants and other chemical-based medications.
One psychotherapist who has turned the concept of art as therapy on its head is German, Terry Rustin. In addition to encouraging his patients to illustrate their illnesses or disorders in drawings, etchings and paintings, Rustin is himself creating large colourful canvasses that depict how he understands the mental experience of each patient.
In his neat role reversal of art as therapy Rustin claims that he has a much better understanding of the lived experience of people diagnosed with psychological and psychiatric disorders.By portraying the feelings of rejection, isolation, alienation and loss, he has a sharper and more defined sense of what each patient is going through. As a result, he is much better equipped to help his patients find a sense of equilibrium with the world and the people who live in it.
Rustin has also discovered that by creating visual imagery of specific traumatic events in a patient’s life such as a suicide attempt, a physically abusive episode or a sexual assault, he can provide an independent visual analysis of the patient’s plight and the causal factors he perceives are behind the illness or disorder. By sharing this objective representation with a spouse or family member, the patient is better able to describe the experience with the people he or she loves the most.In this iteration, art lies at the intersection of creativity and the functions of the mind.
In addition to its therapeutic value, this type of art has becoming increasingly collectible. It’s even earned a name of its own – Outsider Art or Art Brut. The common denominator that defines the genre is that all works have been created by unskilled and untrained artists who are or were suffering from a mental illness or psychiatric disorder.
Art Brut may not be as technically excellent as works by the great Expressionists, Impressionists or Surrealists but it has rapidly become an integral component of the visual arts. Galleries as mainstream of the Tate Modern frequently exhibit examples of Art Brut, some of which is dark and disturbing but all is unique, exciting and capable of evoking all sorts of feelings and emotions in the viewer.
The next time you see a wonderfully creative work of art that successful imparts a deeper meaning, bear a thought for the artist. He or she may be involved in an epic battle with the dark forces that define ‘abnormality’.