In the last few years, mental health has become more widely and openly discussed. With this destigmatization comes a growing trend in art therapy. Art as a way to process emotions isn’t new; Creativity and mental health have always been deeply entwined. Art can be cathartic when coping with anxiety, depression, trauma, and more. Here are some artists who used art to manage their mental health.
The most prominent painting that comes to mind when thinking of Van Gogh is “Starry Night”. It is known for its bold blue and yellow contrast, and vivid brush strokes. What is lesser known is that this iconic work hides a lot of suffering. After Van Gogh cut off his own ear following a hallucination bout, he checked himself into an asylum. This painting shows the view from his window at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
What was simply a striking landscape before, now tells a story. Van Gogh didn’t only paint what he saw, but infused a dreamlike, almost spiritual quality to his work. Through his turmoil, Van Gogh turned to art and created what has now become one of the top-acclaimed art pieces of our time.
People often think of art as painting or photography, but Tracey Emin challenged the norm with a unique installation that was displayed at the Tate Gallery in 1999.
The installation represented a depressive phase she went through after a breakup where she stayed in bed for four days without eating, and drank only alcohol.
This piece received a lot of media attention and controversy. Many didn’t consider it as art, while others considered it indelicate, due to elements like bodily secretions on the sheets, underwear with menstrual blood stains, and other detritus.
This piece is both loved and hated, but one thing remains certain; it is hard to remain impassive after viewing it. Her work is considered vulgar by some, but it is also raw. Emin wasn’t scared to show the honest side of depression in her art, and to make sense of her heartbreak in the process.
Kara Walker is another artist who doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Known for her silhouette art, she uses her work to explore topics such as race, gender, and address America’s history of slavery and racism.
“It’s interesting to look at the sort of work I’ve been making and to realise that, yes, it’s couched in the language of slavery or the past of America but it also comes from these family dynamics. Living with somebody else’s pain is tricky.”
This untitled piece from the exhibit can have various interpretations, but the dynamic and contrast between the younger and older looking figure seem to exemplify the suffering that a generation can pass down.
Walker’s work is crucial in showing the very real impact of socio-political factors on mental health.
Milos arrived in Canada in 1968 as a political refugee from Czechoslovakia. He processed his experience as an emigrant through a lot of his work, but notably his Alcohol Series. Alcohol was used to cope with the struggles of immigration, and Reindl turned to his art to portray that suffering. Contrary to his usual colourful works, pieces like “Sadness” stand out.
The suffering from the loss of a former life, culture and language is portrayed, as the man holds his head in despair.
All these pieces show how interconnected art and the artist’s mental health are. Troubled mental health shouldn’t be glamourized as a prerequisite for good art, however, art can act as a very powerful form of healing.
Written by Nina Surugue