The Art of Mental Health
My Mental Health does not define my Art, or does it?
It’s no secret that art can help heal after a tumultuous affair with mental illness. The drawing of emotional pain cathartic, a visual representation of pain, sorrow, hope and healing, depression a soul-wrenching experience. The loss of who, what and how we are. Why draw out our fears, our mental anguish? Because no-one can ever see anyone else’s emotional pain directly. It’s this unforeseen fog that attempts to destroy everything in it’s wake. I should know, I’ve been there. Therapists encourage a use of anything for patients to express their feelings, art therapy lorded as allowing break-throughs in care. With mental illness affecting 1 in 4 it’s perplexing why we don’t talk about this more, especially the more serious of diagnosis'. As part of Coastal Currents, the anonymous group the temps created street art interventions around mental illness. The artworks confront stereotypes and prejudices, highlighting the importance of mental wellness. These artworks, displayed in alleys in St Leonards could be a metaphor for mental illness, hidden, secretive. This co-ordinated street art intervention displays the wide and varied skills from the artists and how mental health has touched them. Although, the swift removal of some works by the council leaves a sour taste in the mouth, these beautiful works have been ripped down in less than 24 hours, is this a simile for the greater issue of covering up mental illness in the community, or is it just an example of bureaucracy removing works that didn't pay for advertisement space?
As one member of the temps, so eloquently put "[...]I Feel I am now finally on the road to recovery. I found that the act of posting my work on the walls in our locality to be so powerful as it symbolises the bond between mother and child, specifically between myself and my five-year-old daughter. I collaborated with her to create the works, as a way of celebrating the positivity engendered when this relationship is a healthy one. As someone who experienced overt control and endless restrictions from her own mother, this has been incredibly cathartic for me. I intend to continue this work and would like to see the project grow and grow in order to raise awareness of mental wellness/illness and support those who are suffering from deep-seated Mental Health issues."
Familiar slogans of “This too shall pass” and “One step at a time” are heard all too often of those under Mental Health services, and there is a beauty in taking the power of that phrase back, using it as an artwork on the streets, thatis as impermanent as some mental states, the power of creativity keeping at least one member of the temps from a swift holiday in Woodlands, which in turn shows how integral artwork can be to those needing a respite from their own thoughts, an outlet for the upset if you will, an exercise in distraction. The artworks created by the temps are out in the public, for you all to see and to converse about, this isn't hidden in a psychiatric ward or a white gallery, this is available to everyone, coincidently so is mental illness, and the conversations the works encourage should be had, and these conversations are happening, as one member highlighted “When I was posting my drawing and the accompanying song lyrics a gang of young men asked if they could look at what I was doing. I said ‘of course, that is the point’. I explained to them that putting the original drawing up was a way of honouring my Dad who is dying and reminding people to make the most of each other. They seemed genuinely moved and said they’d let their friends know about the piece”.
This is the blessing of art in open spaces, those that may not normally visit art galleries get to see a wealth of talent in our streets. So often art on the subject of mental illness, made by those with mental illness gets the label of “Outsider Art”, this is changing, the temps are actively trying to engage just those who may be of the belief 'art is not for me'. With the stigma of mental illness being challenged, these artworks demonstrate the creativity and the perseverance of those touched by mental illness. The works will be up around St Leonards until the weather (or the council) decide it's time to gently disappear, but hopefully the message from Time To Change will stay with us. “Mental illness affects 1 in 4, start your conversation now”.