Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art

JAN. 13, 2017

By Ryann Tanap


There’s something very powerful about art. It allows the viewer to experience life from different perspectives. It’s therapeutic. It also has the power to intensify an experience. And with mental health topics becoming more commonplace in everyday conversation, it’s no surprise that we can experience it within the creative and performing arts community. Being able to glimpse mental illness through the diverse lenses of art can be transformative—which is exactly why I visited the Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art exhibit earlier this year at the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh.

The Mindful exhibit provides a very unique approach to a crucial conversation in today’s society. We all know the statistics: One in five adults in America experiences a mental illness in any given year. One in 25 adults lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Therefore, it is important to put the experiences of those living with mental illness into context. It may even be surprising to learn that someone you know lives with a mental illness, whether or not he or she has been diagnosed. That means that some of the people we encounter every day are living in silence, often without a support network or access to adequate resources and treatment. Mindful, which features more than 30 works created by 14 contemporary artists, opens a door by showing what it is like to live with, or support someone who lives with, mental illness.

I admit that I was taken aback by the exhibit. Staff welcomed me into the space, and I was given a quick overview of the different pieces of art I would experience: There were 3D and 2D pieces as well as more intricate art installations, all of which really pulled at me. On a personal note, I’ve watched loved ones battle “invisible” illnesses, and even lost friends to suicide, so the artwork deeply resonated with me—some of it in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Among the pieces were social commentaries on our increasing reliance on medication for treating severe illnesses. There were political commentaries exploring the interconnectedness of power, waging war and inadequate health care for our country’s armed forces. There were also depictions of what it is like to try to reach out to a loved one living with depression, and what it is like to feel like you’ve failed. It was an intense exhibit, yet there was still an air of hope to each piece. By telling a narrative through art, perhaps the artists hope that their audiences will take their work as a motivating story (or a cautionary warning).

The great thing about art is that it is created and experienced in a safe space. Art, a form of creative expression and storytelling, lends itself to providing a unique immersion into the world of mental illness when it is created by individuals with lived experience. We can begin to break down stigma when we approach mental illness through the perspective of an artist or performer. No single person’s lived experience is the same, and we discover that their artwork, through sculpture, painting, writing, video and other mediums, captures the very real and human side to mental illness.

For those who would like an alternative introduction to mental illness, and for those who may already know the story behind mental health realities (whether it’s from lived experience or through someone you know), I encourage you to check out Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art. This exhibit is a safe and creative conversation-starter for families, groups of friends, colleagues and the greater community. It will be on display in various art spaces through 2018, including:

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Virginia Beach, VA
Jan. 27–April 17, 2017

Kaddatz Galleries and Lake Region Arts Council, McKnight Gallery
Fergus Falls, MN
Aug. 14–Oct. 7, 2017

Fuller Craft Museum
Brockton, MA
Nov. 15, 2017–April 22, 2018


Note: This piece is a reprint from the Fall 2016 Advocate


JUL, 30, 2017 07:03:47 PM
Gary h kleiner

My name is Gary h kleiner and I taught myself to draw while in a mental hospital. I'm looking to teach others to draw which has helped me with my mental illness.

Thank you

Gary kleiner

JAN, 31, 2017 11:43:13 AM
Thank you for sharing. This is mostly helpful. I believe in the power of art as a means of communication.
Do we have an exhibit here in San Francisco , CA? If not , can someone start organizing one? I am sure , there would be volunteers. I , for one will volunteer.

JAN, 28, 2017 03:39:13 PM
Sounds like a wonderful exhibit. It's heartening to see such exhibits out in the public. I had my own personal exhibit a couple of years ago at the Art Center in my city. It was amazing to watch the many varied responses to the work... paintings and words which were sometimes inspiring, sometimes brutal, and hopefully always informative and helpful in understanding what it can be like to live with a mental illness. I'm so glad to see more artists' work out there.

JAN, 27, 2017 08:21:39 PM
Deana Bevins
I'd like to know if there are services in my area that could provide free art supplies for the mentally ill? I live with mental illness and find it therapeutic in so many ways to produce art. But, as you know it is expensive to buy supplies.

JAN, 26, 2017 03:20:10 PM
Jeff D Simpson
Looking forward to the exhibit in san diego!

JAN, 26, 2017 02:16:30 PM
It's frustrating at times for me to create art. I feel the need to push through and do it anyway. Almost always I feel better for doing so.
I was wondering if I could get involved in some way exhibiting my art work?

JAN, 26, 2017 12:20:13 PM
Laurel ryce
Just started a new 501c3 and one of our goals is to use the arts manage stress, empower clients and in so doing improve mental health in the community. Any information, programs,services or resources would be greatly appreciated. I would like to know how can I get this exhibit in Atlanta. I would be happy to coordinate such an event

JAN, 26, 2017 10:48:54 AM
Mark Thibault
I enjoyed reading this article.

JAN, 26, 2017 10:08:36 AM
Patricia Brock Thompson
I 'doodle' nightly and the process tells me a lot about what I cannot express or choose not to express verbally. Have struggled with bipolar (now doing well) and am generally aware of my state of mind. Art helps. Doing and seeing.

JAN, 22, 2017 07:48:44 PM
I cannot produce art or get motivated to make art and j am an artist I feel I have lost myself

JAN, 14, 2017 07:08:18 PM
Rey Tanap
I find it calming when I sketch and draw using a simple pencil.

Awesome article

JAN, 14, 2017 07:03:14 PM
Rey Tanap
Fantastic article. I would like to tell you that when I sketch using a pencil I find it it very calming.

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