Back in July, I had the privilege to show my work at #theotherartfair in London. One of the fair’s partners is the charity #CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) of which I had not heard of. To help the charity, it invited the exhibiting artists to donate a piece of work for their charity auction. I donated artwork as I believe it is a very worthy cause. During the lead up to the show and after, I became very interested in this charity and wanted to explore more so I joined the mailing list and offered to get more involved.
Using Art to Aid the Mind.
CALM started out as a pilot by the Department of Health in Manchester in 1997. Until 2011, they aimed it at men aged 15-35, offering support and a helpline in a crisis or for anyone who needs to talk. By 2011, they recognised that there was a big increase in callers over 35 and eventually they covered all men.
At the art fair, although we were helping to raise money for them, they also wanted to highlight the CALM Art Collective, helping people to express themselves creatively. Fellow artists shared positive thoughts and feelings about this cause, as many had real-life stories to tell. It got me thinking about the people I knew that had suffered from mental illness in their lives; many who work in the creative world experience some form of depression, but why?
You get to do what you love – how can you be depressed?!
I believe artists are a classic case! We get moody and experience massive swings of mental energy; elated one day, then another day we struggle to get out of bed because the brain has gone creatively blank! Friends and family look heavenward as we declare ‘will I ever paint/draw/make again’!! That may sound somewhat amusing but think again.
Perhaps there is a deeper sense of personal & creative identity as artists; we express so much yet can suddenly feel completely at a loss inside! We draw from our emotions to create, and these emotions are powerful forces and creative tools; please, handle with care. Mental illnesses/depression are often invisible, someone may not look unwell in the way we may be used to, but inside that person, there could be a storm about to erupt and saying the wrong thing could tip them over the edge.
An artist’s work will often contain their deepest thoughts and feelings, it is a way of expressing ourselves and perhaps a way of “storing” those thoughts and feelings away from ourselves, somewhere safe, that perhaps the viewer can’t quite work out entirely. Perhaps it is not the ideal way of ‘cleansing’ the mind of our negativity, hiding it somewhere else but it is a way that makes us feel better and that is the main thing, to improve our wellbeing.
As on only child, I was very isolated. Art, even at a young age, was a way for me to communicate; to say something that I couldn’t or didn’t know how to express to anyone else. In some ways, it still serves that purpose now, with the bonus of having a piece of work that I can also look at and be proud of and that other people want to see and enjoy. This creates a special connection with someone. It makes me happy that people want to hear what I communicate and show interest in what I have to say in my work.
Using Art To Heal
It does not surprise me at the high percentage of men suffering this way and the many cases of suicide. It may be 2019 but there are still many people including the men themselves that believe they have to be strong for everyone and feel embarrassed about expressing their emotions. What a great way of trying to do that by joining in a creative group to express that inner self. Not only can you say what you like in that artwork, but the process of creating gives a great sense of freedom. Whether you are in a group or prefer to shut yourself away and throw paint at a canvas or mould and shape some clay or whatever, there is a sense of freedom, euphoria, release and FUN! You can be in that happy place again! As adults, we don’t let ourselves play nearly enough!
That happy thing we did as children is often lost now as responsibilities take over! Play and creativity go together, by playing, we take risks, make mistakes and discover new things, just like art! Art doesn’t restrict us, so take yourself into a happy place and explore your creativity, no alcohol or drugs needed, just explore the pleasure again of playing and having fun!
There are people out there that get stuck in a cycle of isolation. They are alone or feel lonely and find it difficult to talk to anyone, or don’t have anyone to talk to, or believe that no one wants to listen. It is incredibly sad and should make us all more aware to look out for these people. No matter what age, we can all suffer with depression, lets take note of our communities a little more. After all, it could easily be any of us someday.