Thoughts on Mental Health and Art


Recently I have been thinking a great deal about where my work comes from: both the actual imagery/product, and the desire to make. It is a huge generalisation to say that Art is therapeutic, despite there being scientific evidence to confirm that even looking at Art creates a response in the brain which is associated with positive emotions. One article I read in the Telegraph reported that a scientific study revealed that looking at works of art created the same brain response as being in love. It follows therefore, that those who become accustomed to creating their own palette of positivity would be constantly drawn to it, and inclined to repeat elements which increase the blood flow to the medial orbitofrontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with pleasure and desire. This has been measured using MRI scans.


Above are examples of paintings I have been working on for some time, and decided to try to resolve last weekend. I worked with a limited palette so that the figures would be subject to some degree of being concealed. Interesting, I thought, that I am concealing their faces instead of painting them clothed. But then there is a vulnerability and question mark over their identity; the body is yours and mine and belonging to anyone else who wishes to associate with it, even in simple terms such as ‘human’ or ‘flesh’. It also links back to my work last year when I was exploring painting on a human canvas. The intimacy of flesh is still there, without the intimacy of eye contact or expression. It can therefore be mournful or joyous. It can express whatever the viewer projects into it.

During a recent meeting of my MA group, students were presenting their work. I was listening to everything that was said and was writing down any words that stood out. The result is a collection of terms, works and thoughts (my own and those of my cohort) from this session. I enjoy writing and I wonder about the connection between the terms that stood out for me. Storytelling, perception, ‘poetry of space’….. the words that clung to my imagination may be very different to those that others would have chosen. Perhaps they say something about my background, experiences or preferences. Perhaps they are just ‘nice’ words! I’m certainly not about to start psychoanalysing myself in terms of these words, but perhaps there needs to be more psychoanalysis during the activity of painting – and this is what is interesting me at the moment: the liberation of painting and the conflicting sense of needing to work in a way which is suitable, palatable and professional.

I have so many fascinating resources: books, journals, people. The conversation about mental health and art; flow and psychosis, work as self-reference, abstract portrait or emotional gesture and the health impact of both creating and looking at Art. It is certainly no surprise that hospitals such as Chelsea & Westminster and Barts have large art collections and consider the work important to the most ‘healing‘ environment that patients, visitors and staff can encounter.


This is a small detail from a page of notes I wrote whilst having a Masters tutorial with artists Hayley Lock. By highlighting the words ‘lose the moral responsibility’ I was also unlocking the possibilities of working in a way which would focus on exactly what I wanted to see or feel, selfishly absorbed in my own emotions and less so in any sense of wanting to ‘heal the world’. I wonder how much of a battle that is for artists in general, but certainly as a female artist I have grown up feeling that I needed to REACT and keep pushing for equality through my work and words. And then we drift further from what is at the heart of creativity, and into what will spread a message – advertising, promotion, propaganda etc

So this marks the start of a project exploring mental health – my own, yours, his, hers, ours. How and why creating Art is all I want to do – an obsession and a compulsion – a true love.


One thought on “Thoughts on Mental Health and Art”

  1. This blog really gave an insight into where you are coming from, where you are and where you might be going. Thank you for sharing.


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