Having graduated from an MA Art Psychotherapy course at Roehampton University, and now working within the field, I still maintain an interest in what it means to be both an art therapist and an artist. The purpose of this blog is to identify and develop dialogues with other individuals that inhabit these dual roles and how it informs art practice.
In addition to reading my own blog posts, I have been greatly encouraged to read other blogs and articles which relate to mental health (broadly speaking) and wanting to make use of my A-N subscription. A preliminary search for ‘mental health’ produced 24 different search items including events, conversations and other resources.
I’m particularly drawn to artists who express facets of their own mental health through their work or have experience of undertaking therapy themselves. For instance, I have really enjoyed reading Alistair Gentry’s article about London-based artist Liz Atkin who creates work both in response to and as a way of coping with compulsive behaviours. These descriptions are acutely personal and brave given that talking about one’s own social and emotional wellbeing can be very difficult. In Aitkin’s case, it can be hard to capture one’s own struggles with anxiety in a way that feels accessible and resonant with others who have not had the same experiences, as well as those who have. Speaking publicly in this way can also spark opposition from others which might negatively impact upon the individual’s mental health, making them reticent about speaking out in the future. Gentry’s article also highlights this issue. He describes that,
‘Of the many artists I spoke to as part of my recent research into the experiences and strategies of artists who experience mental health problems, one of the few who was prepared to speak openly about her experiences was Liz Atkin.
This reticence is not particularly surprising, given that many artists and arts workers told me they had heard first-hand a wide range of deeply unsympathetic comments about themselves or about mental illness in general from colleagues’
I myself have veered away from elaborating upon my own mental health due to fears that someone I work with, in a therapeutic context, might read this. I am sure that I could speak more freely were I to write anonymously or under a pseudonym. A while back someone sent me a resource called A Psychotherapist’s Guide to Facebook and Twitter: Why Clinicians Should Give a Tweet!. I referred to it in one of my first blog posts in 2012 and it would be useful to revisit it again.
On other hand, this blog has never been about exploring my mental health, but looking more broadly at the parameters of art and therapy as a therapist in-training.
Gentry, A. (2018). Artists and mental health: Liz Atkin, #CompulsiveCharcoal artist – a-n The Artists Information Company. [online] a-n The Artists Information Company. Available at: https://www.a-n.co.uk/resource/artists-mental-health-liz-atkin-compulsivecharcoal-artist/ [Accessed 16 Aug. 2018].
I have recently felt that my blog has been in need of a revamp. Having started Art as Therapy in 2o12 as an aspiring Art Psychotherapist, I now realise that the aims and objectives of the blog have changed considerably. The blog was originally written as a means of making sense of my Art Therapy training. I found it helpful to grapple with Art Therapy theory through a blog intended for artists as it forced me to break down what I was learning about in a way that was more palatable for others. The blog served as a companion piece to my Art Therapy training and also the years after graduating. However, having now worked within this field for three years, I found myself pondering the relevance of this blog to myself and others. Particularly as efforts to add new posts feel more laboured.
One thing I found really helpful was to go way back to the beginning and re-read the first few years of developing content for Art as Therapy. The experience was cathartic and a reminder of all of the things that had inspired me to write the blog in the first place. I discovered that my core interest at the time had been to draw links between Art Therapy and my own art practice, something that continues to be relevant for me now. However, I am now equally interested in what makes Art Therapy different from other art-making practices and why the distinction is important. Ultimately, are all forms of art making therapeutic and why might it depend on the individual or group engaging in these activities?
Over the course of this week, I will give some thought to how I could revise the opening statement for the blog to reflect how my interests have changed or developed over time.
I’m steadily producing new pencil drawings based on outlines of my body or body parts. These activities feel like a starting point even if there is a lot of ambivalence about where they might lead.
In reading back on other blog posts, I’m reminded that the thing that drew me to self-portraiture was the elusiveness of identity. In making these works, I’ve enjoyed the exercises of drawing around the outline of my arm and then moving my hand and fingers and redrawing an outline over the top. Sometimes I also draw around the shadows that my hands cast on the paper. Theses images feel animated and capture the ephemerality of the body in motion. Depending on the colour of the paper, the use of different pencils and quality of line – hard or soft, these images can seem like optical illusions. It’s as if the hands are are waving back at me.
Since completing Being Here (Now), I feel a little bit stuck as to where to go from here. The theme of personal identity is so nebulous it’s hard to know where to start. I have a few ideas, but am lacking the impetus to push forward with anything. I’m still interested in self-portraiture and am continuing to work on my ‘post-it portrait’ that I started a while back. Genealogies and cultural identity are also of interest seeing as I have very little awareness of my own cultural heritage.
As someone who is half-English, half-Filipino I would be keen to explore to use my art practice as a platform to investigate my personal experience of being mixed race and how this might be similar (or different) to others who would consider themselves to be ‘Asian Other’, ‘Asian British’ or ‘Mixed’.
In all of this, I’m also reminded of the title of this blog – Art as Therapy, and whether these ideas naturally lend themselves to therapeutic theory/ thinking or is the work moving in a different direction.
For a while now, I have been working on a video piece inspired by my interest in the artist’s self portrait. After several months of playing with the footage, and several re-edits, it’s finally finished.
In Being Here (Now), I explore notions of identity drawing direct influence from Gustave Courbet’s, A Desperate Man – a painting that presents a cropped close-up of the artist with bulging eyes and hands clasping at his own head. Courbet’s image epitomises the Romantic era of the eighteenth century in which it was commonly believed that paintings could convey more than a person’s wealth and social standing, but the subjective life of the soul itself.
In contrast, Being Here (Now) playfully examines the fluidity of identity at a time when increasing social pluralism, cosmetic surgery and the fast-changing world of social media mean deciphering questions like ‘Who am I?’ is more difficult than ever (Harrison, 2016: 1). Within the video, I present myself intimately touching my own head and face – feeling my way around ears, nose lips, before these rituals become progressively more visceral and discomforting. The video footage itself also starts to breakdown as scenes are cut and spliced together and built up in layers. The multiplicity of different images, all playing simultaneously, thus renders my face and body virtually unrecognisable.