Skip to main content

Mental Health & Artists (1)

Generally speaking mental health is a bit of a taboo subject, although in this day and age, it absolutely shouldn’t be. Given some of the outright disgusting conversations that I overhear on an average night out, I’m amazed that anything can be considered taboo in 2014, because many of us have the luxury of living in a no-boundaries society these days. Unless, of course, you’re talking about problems with the human psyche, in which case you might as well lock yourselves away now and resign yourselves to a life of only discussing this topic with trained professionals who are paid to listen. Not for public consumption. Nuh-uh. No, thank you.

For the sake of this blog post actually going somewhere, let’s just put a pin in the notion that we can’t talk about mental health and pretend for a second that we can. Or, let’s be even more risqué and talk about mental health in relation to art, because that’s really what I’m interested in right now.

After reading an article recently, I discovered that rates of mental health issues, namely things such as depression, are typically higher in the artistic community. 

Why?

Answers on a post card, please.

I don’t know why. I don’t know if the bits of our brains that make us creative also somehow make us nutty on the odd occasion; or whether what we’re doing with our lives, namely creating art, somehow drives us crazy. I don’t know if it’s part and parcel of doing what we do that eventually chips away at the logical bits of our brains until we think in colours and speak in smells, and somehow get away with calling it art. 

I don’t even know if art does make us crazy (completely flippant use of that word by the way, I’m not at all insinuating that anyone suffering from depression, or any type of mental health problem, should be branded as a nut-bag and thrown in a padded cell - I’m merely being colloquial), or if maybe crazy people just happen to make art. 

But then what about people suffering from mental health problems who don’t make art? Or people who are artistic, but don’t make a career out of it, and therefore don’t suffer from mental health problems? There are so many variations to consider in this field of conversation, is it even possible to try and isolate a reason why artists might suffer more from mental health issues than any other type of person? Is it even fair to try and do that? Are we effectively insinuating that there is some kind of prerequisite here? Are we therefore banishing people with fully-functioning mental health to an un-artistic life? Is there even such a thing is someone with a fully-functioning state of mental health, or is that an urban myth?

I don’t know. But I’d like to.

I suppose ultimately my concern here is that stigma is being attached to mental health issues, which is then being attached to the artistic community - which is particularly frustrating given that neither of the things above warrant any kind of negative stigma. At all. Not even a little bit.

For anyone who is aware of stereotypes, you’ll be more than aware that there are some fairly unsavoury ones for people who are considered to be artistic. One of which - perhaps one of the most popular and well-known ones - is that they are somehow unhinged. Where did this come from? Okay, Van Gogh probably didn’t do us all any favours with that one, but are the archetypal artists who came and went years before us really the point of reference for anyone who paints, writes, or makes music in this present era? It hardly seems fair, and I’m not convinced it’s accurate. Okay, maybe that should read entirely accurate. Continuing with where this stigma comes from, I also can’t help but wonder whether it’s from the people who are close to these artists. Everyone loves it when they’re being painted, or written about, but when you break someone’s heart and instead of developing your character they start planning how to kill you off, suddenly they’re unhinged, unhappy, unstable. Has that contributed to the stigma; that instead of moving on from troubling things in our lives, we must first document them and share them, often causing deep upset for the person who inspired the work itself? Maybe that’s worth considering more for part two of this feature.

It has often been suggested that writing can be a great help to those suffering with mental health problems, offering a safe and constructive outlet, despite the writing itself being a troubling read should you stumble across it three years later. Nevertheless, artistic acts have been said to be very therapeutic for those suffering through a time of mental turbulence. So where is the line between art helping, and art being the cause, if indeed art is the cause at all for any type of mental health problem? Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it’s merely stigma, rolled into stereotype, rolled (sort of) into reality, and now people are forced to accept that writers and their fellow artistic comrades are just a little quirky - an infinitely more flattering and altogether acceptable word to use, as opposed to ‘crazy’. 

Furthermore, the continued investigations and discussions relating to an implied compartmentalisation of the writer’s psyche may have perhaps contributed to this further. This idea that we are somehow more than one person: the writer and the human. A fascinating idea that is developed wonderfully in Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead, for anyone who is interested in reading more about the idea. But I think I’ll probably leave that one for part three…

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake is the recently published novel from Amanda Jennings, released a little earlier this year by the friendly folks over at Orenda Books, and it has been collecting glowing reviews – all of which I have tried to avoid – for weeks on end. Now, having dipped into the book myself, it’s clear to me why. I was around three pages in to this read, in fact, when I turned to my friend next to me and said: ‘Bloody hell, this is going to be a good one.’ The novel follows the story of Bella. A young woman who returns to her family home following the unexpected death of her mother, only to be greeted by a father who is so overcome with guilt and anxiety – perhaps what you’d expect following the loss of a spouse, but certainly not how you’d expect it – that their already strained relationship only worsens in the opening chapters of this book. When Bella’s father, Henry, finally reveals what he’d been holding in for so long, Bella’s world promptly falls apart – and the reader’s heart pr

The Diary of a Whatever I Am Now: Corrupted Hard Drive.

Take a walk with me. We’ll go back to August 2010, late August, when I finally found out that despite my below par A-Level grades, there was a university in the country that was prepared to give me a chance. Praise be to them. Ahead of starting this journey, my generous mother bought me a laptop. A brand spanking new laptop. That my kind and patient sister, and her partner, set up for me and taught me how to use. They deliberately picked something that would suit the university life style – and they were bang on the money in that respect. That laptop lasted I-don’t-care-to-remember how many assignments and a 10,000 word undergraduate dissertation. Let’s not forget, either, that during my first and second summers home from university, I also wrote two “novels” (I use that word in a bland and unimpressed tone, incidentally) that were typed on that same laptop. From there, we moved to postgraduate studies. More assignments and eventually a 25,000 word dissertation. By this point

The Diary of a (former) PhD Student: Now I actually have run out of work.

In case the title of this blog post didn’t give it away, let me clarify: I have handed in my PhD thesis.  I handed it in exactly a week ago, actually, and I would have blogged a brag sooner if not for the fact that the day after my hand-in, a family member was taken into hospital, and the last week has sort of slipped away from me as a result of that. It’s been a while since I gave you an update at all, I know, and the last time we “talked”, I was in this blissfully ignorant place of not having any work to do. Let me catch you up from there:             My readers were wonderful. All of those who read and provided feedback for the book part of the project were insightful, considerate, and careful with their responses. I ironed out technical issues and even one or two final plot holes and so, to those who read the manuscript ahead of hand-in, I cannot and will not ever be able to thank you enough.            My supervisor made me cry. A lot. The “final few twe