I recently watched a speech on art therapy by Swiss Philosopher Alain De Botton, who rather successfully and convincingly explained how ‘art can save your soul’ through the medium of creativity, and how this creativity can hold “the promise of inner wholeness”.
Now I am not sure what to make of this, as art therapy is a relatively new profession. The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) itself was only just founded in 1964 by artist and chiropodist Edward Adamson, aptly dubbed ‘The Father of Art Therapy in Britain’. But is De Botton’s theory correct? That “art should be propaganda for psychology”? It is no question I suppose that art is indeed immensely therapeutic, but can it cure the inner demons raging from within? I am sure there are many people who would argue with this notion, making vigorous references to artists who suffered from bouts of depression and other mental sickness.
But they would be wrong. Surely.
Many great artists who indeed suffered from mental illness, including Mark Rothko, Vincent Vangogh, and Jackson Pollock, used art to release the inner distress that was engulfing their very being. They used paint to express their anger and anguish; to let it out. Art did not make them ‘mad’ as it were, but showed the world a picture, a visual depiction of mental illness through an art form. If anything, it was madness that created and morphed their genius. Aristotle himself even said “poetry demands a man with a special gift for it, or else one with a touch of madness in him”. Art did not make these men mad. It made them hold on to the very sanity that kept them going. Just.
But can making art save you from madness? This notion is different entirely. Of course it can ease and calm the pain, but not cure it. Discussing your problems through the medium of creativity however, can apparently help immensely. Now, although an art student and developing artist myself, I have never spoken to an art therapist about my problems. But in all fairness, I think I would rather discuss and express my issues with someone from a creative background. After all, if it is true that most artists have harboured mental afflictions of their own, then perhaps they would be more empathetic and genuine in discussion of your own emotions. But this is just an opinion. Not a statement. Like I said, I have never seen an art therapist, therefore I cannot be certain. But I have often wondered about the profession. Perhaps it is entirely based on the person being treated, whether they agree that discussing problems through creativity is the key to their personal progress? Either way, physically producing artwork is an extremely rewarding venture and can poke at those emotional demons in any shape or form.