The place for a contemporary artist with a mental illness

Gwinner, Karleen, Knox, Marie and Hacking, Suzanne (2009) The place for a contemporary artist with a mental illness. Journal of Public Mental Health, 8 (4). pp. 29-37. ISSN 1746-5729

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Arts participation fosters social inclusion in a way that other social and recovery programmes do not. The professional role of an artist is an appealing and socially valid role in the community. For many people with a mental illness, arts-based programmes become a catalyst to resume and or pursue their art practice more seriously. The focus of this paper is to uncover the complex boundaries that exist for artists who have mental health needs in contemporary culture, and to review these artists’ perceptions of their oppor tunities to create a place for their creative expression to emerge in its own right, and not on the basis of their illness. We also comment on the specific issue of public perception of the ‘outsider artist’ and refer in parts to the apparent question of how such art is perceived and treated. This paper refers specifically to the experiences of eight visual artists with a mental illness living in Queensland, Australia, who contributed to an exhibition titled Artist Citizen as part of a participatory action research. The topics of discussion by the eight artists explore familiar themes to mental health: stigma, exclusion and the integration of
identity within limited membership groups. This paper details the expressed concerns of the artists around the value and connection of their creative output. It should be relevant and of interest to mental health service personnel for insight into integration and recovery for people with mental health needs into mainstream social and cultural environments.

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