Tag Archives: art therapy

Yvonne Mabs Francis

I found the following essay and artworks through the Open University site, the original article can be found here. Please do go to the original article as it is extremely interesting and also deals with Yvonne’s artwork in a more in-depth way as Yvonne has written about each painting and what they represent. The reason I haven’t put those explanations on here is so that you do the good thing and jump onto their website to view it. You can also find a lot of other wonderfully informative stuff from The Open Learn Team by visiting this page here. You won’t be disappointed!

“My name is Yvonne Mabs Francis. I’m an artist by training. I went to the Slade in the Sixties and I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to paint for the last thirty years more or less full time. In the summer of 1969 my father died and I immediately felt ill. The first thing was sleeplessness, and this went on for a period of about three weeks, and I had obsessive thoughts that later became delusional, the delusional of the painting Liar I experienced at this time. I thought that these thoughts had made my brain protrude like horns from the top of my head. I would ask people whether they were there and I didn’t believe them, I would look in the mirror and I still didn’t believe them. I would even put my hands above my head and I still was convinced I had horns on my head.

Liar by Yvonne Mabs Francis

Within about another two weeks I’d submitted myself to the Warneford Mental Hospital, Oxford. On entering it I was asked whether or not I was likely to commit suicide. I wasn’t likely to commit suicide, I’d felt quite a successful person, I felt there was everything to live for, I was simply terrified by the fact of what I’d gone through and having brains outside your head is, you must admit, pretty terrifying. I knew I was suffering something mentally so I’d gone there thinking that they would talk me through it, but none of them ever tried it at all. And I’m pretty certain that it would have worked because I remember at one stage a sister saying to me that the pieces that were sort of jangling about in my head, they would go away and in time I would feel better. And I remember just for a short moment lifting up my head and all these pieces that were in my head went to the back of my head and I felt defiant and I felt less afraid.

Breakdown by Yvonne Mabs Francis

This just happened for a moment so I really felt totally convinced that if the doctors talked you through it, in the same way they may talk to you today about having a heart attack or any other physical illness, this would have relieved me to some extent. I appreciated it was something I had to live through but it would have helped. Mental illness is like a wall. You are behind your wall, you’re fairly logical behind your wall actually, and what you say isn’t always very easy for other people to understand, your language is, in other words, slightly disjointed or confused.

The Madness of Medication by Yvonne Mabs Francis

After four weeks when I was hospitalised I went up into a locked ward for more severe cases. They tried deep sleep treatment which really didn’t work because obviously you are partly conscious, and it made it even worse because the power of your body ceased with the medication that they’d given you so you couldn’t in any way sort of express your distress. What did help me, however, although I do feel at that time I was just beginning to turn the corner, was electric shock treatment. The Warneford, for all my criticism, were actually very good at electric shock treatment. Don’t ever be taken in by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it really is wrong. And they did it in such a way that you hardly knew what was happening and you felt an awful lot better afterwards. It may only be temporary but you just hold onto the better times. After about three to four weeks of this treatment I managed to be well enough to leave hospital and I’m afraid I never returned there, I never returned to my outpatients appointments because I’d simply been too horrified. In fact I’ve never walked up the driveway in all the years since then.

The Bodily Time Machine by Yvonne Mabs Francis

I painted these series of pictures at least 35 years after my experience. I did it because they would make good images but I did it also – but this was secondary – I wanted to lay to rest this silence that I felt I had over this, and these issues that I had over my treatment up there at Warneford, and to try to put over exactly what mental health delusions are. Many people talk about them, they analyse them, they work out that it’s this and that but nobody actually says exactly what it is that they’re suffering. And this is what I was very, very keen to do because I felt that that would help people, that that would have helped me when I was suffering if somebody had done this to me, and I’d hoped it would help people in the future. And in fact one comment in a book when I showed them at a gallery was that they’d had a father suffering mental health problems and they’d never up until that point realised what they were suffering. So in that way it was done to not only help people that were suffering but to help people around them to see exactly what they may be suffering.

Stages of Hospitalisation by Yvonne Mabs Francis

A lot of people have asked me whether these paintings were a cathartic experience for me. Well they were not, they were done in a really cold calculating way. I was out on a mission for mental health and I was out to produce good images, and it didn’t affect me in the slightest looking back and thinking about these experiences. My paintings do have great meaning for me in my life. I don’t think I’d want to be without working. I have, as I said, I do suffer depression, not to an unmanageable extent but it does certainly help my depression, and it also gives my life great meaning. This is the problem, you know, with sort of a lack of religion is finding meaning, and for me my meaning is my work and that is a huge sort of coping mechanism.”

Third Month by Yvonne Mabs Francis

The Electric Bed by Yvonne Mabs Francis

Double Deaths by Yvonne Mabs Francis

[All Images copyright: Yvonne Mabs Francis]

Emergence Arts & Social Network Event 30th March – Tate Modern

Hi Everyone, details of the next Emergence Arts & Social Network event below…

“I’m delighted to let you know the details of our next Arts and Social Network event on the 30th March at the Tate Modern.

The event will consist of one of Liz Ellis’s interactive and highly enjoyable Art into Life tours. This time the theme will be ‘Art and Power’ and we will tour the States of Flux exhibition with the aim of looking at different media including Jenny Holzer’s text work with flashing LED lights (there will be an alternative if anyone has a problem with these lights).

For further information go to http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/CollectionDisplays?showid=1333 or http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/eventseducation/community/pdf/art_into_life_leaflet.pdf

Date: Friday 30th March 2012
Place: Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Time: The tour will start at 6.30pm after which we will go for coffee as usual.

Further information about the Arts and Social Network is appended below this message. Please contact us by email or telephone 020 8233 2854/5 to either let us know you would like to attend or if you have any queries. Hope to see you on the 30th.

All best wishes

Arts & Social Network Team



Office number: 0208 233 2854/5
Head Office Address
London House, 271-273 King Street
Hammersmith, London W6 9LZ”

Illustration Workshop, 13th April

Illustration Workshop Poster

I’m doing an illustration workshop on April 13th for the inpatients at Highgate Mental Health Centre in London. The participants will be taking part in drawing a cartoon strip about a day – any day, past, present or future – in their life and how the day is relevant to their feelings. They will also have the chance to use many different materials and mediums to work on their pieces.

The workshop is invite only for the inpatients, however if you know someone who is attending the centre please let them know about the workshop. Please note the day of the workshop is actually the 13th April and not 6th as advertised on the poster.

Beast by DeLune

Okay, so here is the first piece of writing we have ever published on the site.  We recently received this work, ‘Beast’, from DeLune who describes herself as “an NHS service nutter who writes”.

I would love to receive a submission for an illustration to go along with this piece of writing. If you are reading and want to give it a go, please, please do!

DeLune has more writing at her website Hotel Muse. Go and check it out, there are some really powerful pieces, like this one.


Here it comes, like a ghost train shrieking on the same silver tracks.

Here it comes, a furious risen corpse; all clawed pale hands and wailing screams.

Here it comes, moon-chewing crypt dweller; hunger-carved into bones and sinew.

The Beast is here. I feel it itch between my bones, I feel it spark like pagan fires, I watch it paint my loved one’s face with fear.

It eats my sleep, it jerks my limbs. I convulse, mouth taut in a silent shout that would shatter the window if given voice.

I crouch, spin, twitch, cower, shake and shiver. I gaze unseeing, I hold my voice in. I must be reminded if I am to eat.

I am busy, can’t you see? Chasing stars – faster and faster, I will open my beast’s mouth and suck them all down.

I say:

‘I’m terribly sorry I’m sure that your conversation is endlessly fascinating but werewolves are breeding beneath my skin and I have to go.”

I burn. I burn. Vampire in sunlight, demon in exorcism, witch in Inquisition pyre, I burn. Something swarms my mind like bees; I call it Starvation. I call it Thirst.

Spinning in circles, arms flung out, round and round until my feet drill down to the cool, the calm, the silence; a long way under the skin.

A wounding imp, it threatens to take everything unless I guess it’s name. But I am clever;

I am forged from faerie stories and night wanderings

– shame and grief and demolishing rage, that’s what this little girl is made of –

And I guess it’s name, I call it madness, and my magic sword,

My wood-cutter’s axe,

Is shaped like a pill.

Happy New Year!

Hello Folks – Happy New Year to you all.

Just a quick update to say I am back in the office and Mental Spaghetti is once again a-go-go.

Have some exciting news in the pipeline but it must remain top secret for now. There will also be some workshops coming up, so stay tuned to our little hope on the net for news on that.

Until then, look out for some writing on the site – it’s the first time I will have included prose and poetry. It’s great stuff so I’m very proud and flattered to be able to show it to you all (nope, it’s not by me!).


Portugal Prints Art Exhibition

Portugal Prints (Westminster Mind), an innovative mental health project based in Central London, are having an exhibition from 7th-9th December.

The opening night of the exhibition is this Thursday 1st December where you will have the chance to meet the artists, view their open studio and card making demonstrations. If you are free between 2-5pm then I recommend you get on down there as it will be aces. I won’t be able to get along until later but that’s okay as there’s also an evening private view from 5-8pm, so there’s really no excuse to miss out!

Check out the flyer below and I hope to see you there.



“Hello. My name is Edward and I hate myself. Don’t worry, it’s nothing you’ve said or done. I always have done. I always will. I am a hateful person. The fact that other people don’t seem to hate me just makes me hate myself more. Self-loathing is my most loyal lifetime companion.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. Keeps you on the straight and narrow. Makes you respectful and mindful of other people’s feelings. Sometimes it’s the grit in the oyster that makes a pearl. Sometimes it makes me funny, because there’s only so much hatred of yourself you can contain before you have to start radiating it outwards. The other option is that you just let it destroy you. I’m not about to do that. I hate myself too much to let myself off lightly.

I have suffered with depression pretty much my entire adult life, and been treated and medicated for it for much of that time. The current drug that I am on, Sertraline, is very good in many ways. It tackles the anxiety which made me completely unable to function in any way. It’s made me more friendly and open as a result. In short, it’s given me all the tools I need to go the final few yards.

The final few yards are always the hardest, though. My cancerous self-loathing is so malign and insistent that it chewed CBT up and spat it out. It’s not something which wants to be reasoned with by my conscious self.

A lot of people have noted how cutesy, happy and child-friendly my art is. This surprises many people who know me who maybe expect a screaming black hole of darkness. All I can say is, that’s just the way it emerges. Pretty much all of it comes from my subconscious and based on what LOOKS RIGHT to me. I’m not a talented enough artist to make anything do my specific bidding, so it is what it is. I think if you look at a lot of my work again though, and just scratch the surface just right, you can see glimpses of the horrors.

I don’t want to come across like Brian Topp from Spaced, painting fear, terror and loathing. But I know that it must be in there. My art offers me hope too, though, because there’s also much in the way of happiness, positivity and humanity on display as well and that means that that must be in there too.

At the moment, though, I still hate myself. And, for the record, I hate this picture. How do you do?”

If you would like to see more of Edward’s work, please click here.

Chato B. Stewart

“Chato Stewart is a husband, father and mental health advocate. He is an artist and the cartoonist behind the Mental Health Humor cartoons. He creates positive, provoking, and sometimes even funny cartoons! The cartoons are drawn from his personal experience of living with Bipolar Disorder. Mr. Chato Stewart strongly believes that there is power behind humor. His motto is humor gives help, hope and healing. His goal and mission is to tap into humor and use it as a positive tool to cope with the serious and debilitating effects of mental illness.

Chato started blogging in 2008 as part of his Mental Health Humor Project. His cartoons have been used by many in the mental health community. Currently he is blogging on Psych Central Network and BP Hope Magazine offerering his Words of The Wisdomless.

Chato B. Stewart is a Florida board Certified Recovery Peer Specialist – A (CRPS-A) and NAMI member. Chato is also the 1st place winner of the DBSA 2009 Facing Us Video Contest. In his powerful public service announcement, he tells his personal story of living with a mental illness through a montage of his cartoons. Adding to his little list of accomplishments is being part of the 2010 DBSA Stand-Up for Mental Health comedy night and being invited back for the 2011 Conference to be a Stand-Up comic in the show.”
-text taken from www.chatobstewart.com.

Kim Noble

You’re likely to have heard of Kim Noble before due to some good press coverage of her amazing work. I will leave the bio up to the good people from her website, please read it below. I have lifted all of the images and text from www.kimnoble.com so all credit must go to them.

Kim’s next Exhibition: “One of Many”, 9th November – 2nd December 2011, Bethlem Gallery, Beckenham, Kent

Painting by Bonny

“Kim Noble is a woman who, from the age of 14 years, spent 20 years in and out of hospital until she made contact with Dr Valerie Sinason and Dr Rob Hale at the Tavistock and Portman Clinics. In 1995 she began therapy and was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (originally named multiple personality disorder).

Painting by Bonny

D.I.D is a creative way to cope with unbearable pain. The main personality splits into several parts with dissociative or amnesic barriers between them. It used to be a controversial disorder but Kim has had extensive tests over 2 years by leading psychology professor at UCL, John Morton, who has established there is no memory between the personalities and that she has the misfortune of representing the British gold standard over genuine dissociation.

Kim has 20 main personalities, many fragments and 14 of the main personalities are artists. Having no formal art training, 14 of the main alters became interested in painting in 2004 after spending a short time with an art therapist. These 14 artists each have their own distinctive style, colours and themes, ranging from solitary deserts, sea scenes and abstracts to collages and paintings with traumatic content. Many alters are unaware that they share a body with other artists.

Painting by Ria Pratt

What is remarkable to all is both the quality of their work and the speed of their progress. Within five years of starting to paint they have already had seventeen successful solo exhibitions and participated in an equal number of group exhibitions. Kim was also the first Artist in Residence at Springfield University Hospital in Tooting, South West London.

Kim now has a 14 year old daughter and is a vivacious woman with a wonderful sense of humour and great courage and commitment.”

Painting by ‘Others’

Martin Ramirez.

“Martín Ramírez (1895–1963) created nearly 300 drawings of remarkable visual clarity and expressive power within the confines of DeWitt State Hospital in northern California, where he resided the last 15 years of his life. Ramírez has been codified primarily as a “schizophrenic artist”; this project goes beyond the boundaries of Ramirez’s diagnosis of mental illness and considers the artistic quality and merit of his artwork. In this way, Ramirez’s works are understood—and appreciated—for the complex, multilayered drawings that they are. “Martin Ramirez,” the first major retrospective of the self-taught master in more than 20 years, features approximately 97 works on paper and is accompanied by a full-color catalog.”
-Brooke Davis Anderson, curator of the 2007 exhibition ‘Martin Ramirez’ at the American Folk Art Museum

For more information on the exhibition and Ramirez’s work please visit the American Folk Art Museum.


Prozacville drew to a close, or a long break at least, at the end of 2010, and it’s now I wonder why the hecky-peck I have never featured it on Mental Spaghetti before. Here’s what they wrote when they closed the blog down:

“This might be a good point to take a break from Prozacville. After 4 years, 500 cartoons, and a write-up in Jamie Magazine (woo-hoo) my plan for now is to devote energies to an offline piece of prose, sheltered from the commentator-pleasing winds of the online gaze. So we’ll see how that goes.”

Prozacville also received a much coveted Mental Nurse TWIM award, so bloody well done, only shame is I am a year late in saying it.

Here’s the last cartoon featured on Prozacville…I actually knew Bippidee and wonder where she is now. Sending you good wishes if you are reading this!


Carrie McGath

On one of my internet scours I came across an interesting meditation on Bipolar artists and the role of medication by Carrie McGath. In her article she “studies the role of  psychoanalysis in art through several different, little prisms”, such as poetry, photomontage and prose. Later in the year she goes on to write another interesting article on being an unmedicated artist with views from the patient and therapist. Please do take time to read both articles, which feature some lovely photomontage work from McGath. Also check out her website which features her publications as a poet (bio below).

Carrie’s poetry can be read online at her website, www.carriemcgath.com.

Here is a bio from her website…
“Carrie’s first collection of poems, Small Murders, was released in 2006 from New Issues Poetry and Prose. Ward-Eighty-One and The Chase are her self-published, limited-edition collections released in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Her newest self-published chapbook, So Sorry to See You Go, is available right here, right now. The poems are inspired by Carrie’s thesis research at the Newberry Library about the presence of the circus in the Midwest. Carrie currently lives in Chicago and is an art writer for Chicago Art Magazine.”


Inferno is a service user with Bipolar. She is taking medication, Lamictal and Clonazepam. It might seem a bit strange to add this but I think it’s relevant and important. Inferno is female, 35 years old and a potter by trade. She also takes part in creating other works of art, like this wonderful drawing. Inferno has signed up to the Mental Spaghetti forum as she, like me, is keen to build a community of creative service users.

“I am a 35 year old female, who just happens to be Bipolar, and an artist. I am a potter/sculptor by trade, and a dabbler at anything else that requires art supplies of any sort. Art is therapy, a pass-time, and an instinctual, absolute NEED to me. I simply must be creating something most of the time. I have been “officially” Bipolar for 5 years now. Although I know I have been most of my life. Art has been my saviour. I urge anyone, artistic or not, to try art therapy. Let those art supplies fly, you will be surprised how good it feels!”

Inferno’s website ‘The Demons Within: Being a Bipolar Artist‘. Please take a look.

Daj Mirage.

It’s been a peach of a week for submissions. First we met Hendrick Pinkle, and now, for your delectation, here’s Daj Mirage. Daj is a mental health sevice-user who has been an inpatient and uses art to communicate his experiences.
You can find more of his work and thinking at his blog, ‘Not Always So’.

The image below is titled ‘A is for Acute’, and here are some words from Daj…
“First of a series that’s based on my own experience. I’m trying to capture the real sense of distress that can accompany any mental health service user.”
-Daj Mirage

Hendrick Pinkle.

Hendrick Pinkle and is from Baltimore in the USA. Hendrick has Bipolar disorder and PTSD. Despite feeling “sick and having a hard time getting about” Hendrick likes to make things, art, in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs. Please do check out Hendrick’s awesome website and you’ve seen the paintings below.

The Cult of Beauty at The V&A

Emergence have just announced their latest art trip. Flyer is below along with some info directly from Emergence.

“Here is the new flyer for June’s ASN. This time we will be heading over to South Ken for a curatorial tour of the new “Cult of Beauty” Exhibition at the V&A.

This recently opened exhibition, looks at the aesthetic movement from 1860 – 1900… It has managed to pull in everything from painting to furniture / graphic design and interiors. These are the kind of exhibitions the V&A really excels at and should be another really interesting event.

Here is a short video about the show with the V&A’s very own dandy, Stephen Calloway waxing lyrical about the aesthetes, and all you need in way of details from the V&A site here.

Brent Arts in Health in collaboration with Emergence

Artists involved with Emergence have had a new piece of 3D artwork unveiled, it sounds really great. Would love it if all of you dear readers would go and check it out. Press release below…

taken from the Emergence website
“Friday, 13 May 2011, 17:30 – 20:00

Launch of the Workshop 24 Collaboration – please see previous story for background: http://www.emergenceplus.org.uk/news-from-emergence/230-exciting-artist-in-residence-opportunity-act-now.html

As part of the Peel Precinct Workshop 24 project, Brent Arts Therapies Service, and South Kilburn Public Art programme commissioned a project to benefit members of the community who experience mental health problems.

In partnership with Emergence, they commissioned an artist who identifies with personality disorder to create a new piece of permanent 3D artwork (3D relief panel) in collaboration with South Kilburn residents who themselves experience mental health issues.

The launch of the artwork is in May 2011.
Location : Salvation Army, 55 Chichester Road, London NW6 5QW
Contact : Noelle Lavall on 07903 434 703 or Jorge Camarena on 0208 438 1740


Hello dear readers. I’m extra excited about today’s entry as I have been nagging this contributor to send me work for a while, I had only seen one piece and I knew it was going to be great. I’m also biased because I’m an illustrator as well as an artist so to see some drawing come our way was very good. In my drawing I always try to remember to add something interesting and challenging, and although I don’t always remember to use this trick, I’m a great fan of distorted angles and points of view, something that Lis has employed in the third picture down. She has also used colour in an interesting way.

Here are some words and pictures from Lis to you…

“I’m Lis, 26 years old and have bipolar disorder.
I find illustrating is an outlet for me, even if the finished work ends up in the bin!

I draw from life and photography, but always draw people. People have always fascinated me. I love sketching faces. Different expressions, poses, individuality. Ask me to draw a landscape and I will look at you like you have gone mad!

Most of my work has been done whilst in an ‘up’ mood, I rarely draw whilst stable or depressed. Due to that I have a bit of a love hate relationship with art, I’ll feel compelled to create something yet will hate sitting still for too long in order to create it, hence all my work is done in a hurry.”

Karen May Sorensen.

Karen May Sorensen is astounding. She is an artist, living with schizoaffective disorder for the past twenty years, and has produced an amazing body of work. I’ve got to say I’m a little bit biased when it comes to Karen’s work as it reminds me of all my favourite art – folk art, outsider art, frenetic, vivid and immediate. I personally love these pieces, especially ‘Monster Couple’, and would love to have some prints for my house!

If I was a shrink I’d probably say that there are certain paintings more than others where you can see Karen’s disorder speaking out from the canvas. Who knows if that is true. It seems that way, in the same way that Louis Wain’s cats became more schizophrenic as his health took a tumble. I read somewhere that Karen kept a record of paintings she did on different medications. The results would be very interesting. I haven’t found that yet but I’m only just getting through her website and blog so hopefully will stumble across it soon.

Karen does a fair bit of autobiographical writing on her website and shares her thoughts on her own life, medication and ‘normals’ (people unaffected by mental disorder) amongst other things. She also writes a blog which she frequently updates so please do have a read. I have lifted a bit of writing from Karen’s website for you to read as she can explain herself and her mind better than I ever could. I cannot stress how much I love this artist.

This I Believe by Karen May Sorensen

“I believe in the power of art. I once worked at an information desk in a world famous art museum. The kind lady who was my boss also happened to be an artist. On some days she wore a pin that peaked my curiosity. It said, “Art Saves Lives”. It seemed an extreme statement. I wondered if it were true.

I was young when I worked in the art museum and I had an enormous amount of enthusiasm. I was, I decided, going to be someone, someday. I certainly did not feel as though my life needed saving, not by art, not by anyone. I liked to write and I hoped that someday I would write a book. I practiced writing, knowing that practice was the best pathway to becoming a good writer. I also went to school. While I was in school I realized that I could not have a job, even a part time job, and go to classes at the same time. My life was filled with too much stress. So I quit my part time job (which I loved quite a bit) to concentrate on school.

At that time I also had a boyfriend who I liked to go dancing with. School was tough, and during final exams I became anxious and depressed. It wanted to be a good student, but it was so very difficult to get the assignments done. Eventually I realized that I could not go to school and have a boyfriend at the same time. Both seemed to take up all my attention and concentration. I thought to myself that I did not like feeling so divided between commitments. My boyfriend never made me feel anxious and depressed, so I decided to drop out of school and keep the boyfriend. I could still write, I went to the library every day to write.

My boyfriend was a nice young man. The one frustration in our relationship was that there were many activities that we could not do together. When he wanted to go dancing, he wanted to travel to other states, to visit the biggest parties. Long hours driving, long hours dancing, these things I found too adventurous for my taste. We would spend half a Saturday together, perhaps go bicycling in the morning, but then I needed a nap and wanted in the afternoon to do only quiet things. He wanted to do activities that filled the whole day, but I quickly sputtered out and lost steam. I was jolly and good company for a couple of hours but then my whole state of mind changed and I became fragile, remote, and unavailable. It seemed to me that my boyfriend had too much energy for me. So we parted ways amicably.

I had gone through a process of whittling down my life, making it more and more slender, until I arrived at a very simple life where the one thing that I would do was every morning go to the library and write. When I got to the library I would write for exactly half an hour. Sometimes, through tremendous effort, I could write for forty-five minutes. Often I had to rewrite the same sentence over and over again. Making a paragraph was a big deal. The rate of writing was very slow. But I was happy with what I produced. After rewriting every sentence many times, and rewriting paragraphs just as often, the words really began to flow. The imagery was special. The voice was unique. I had perhaps five pages of beautifully written writing when I finally gave up on that particular book project.

I tell you a story and some of the choices I made may seem strange. Many people have jobs and go to school at the same time. It is stressful but they handle the stress. Also many people date and take classes at the same time. People juggle the demands of home and work all the time. And if I choose having a boyfriend over the more serious, life building activity of school, it makes me seem frivolous and lazy. But there is a strong hint as to the core of the problem that existed. When I wrote, I could only write for half an hour at a time. And a college usually requires hours of study from their students. I remember one term paper due that turned out to be twenty-eight pages long. I loved school, I loved learning, but the reality was I found the demands that school placed upon me to be torture. I was an excellent student when I was in school. But in order to be excellent I had to endure mental conditions that stretched the boundaries of who I was. All the choices I made were made with the intention of preserving sanity.

There is an explanation for why I forged such a failure strewn path. My brain is not like most people’s. I had a normal brain up to the age of nineteen, and then my brain changed. It weakened, and then it broke. I lost many abilities. I stopped talking and I stared off into space. I had to be hospitalized for two years. The hospital would not release me because I could not stop thinking about killing myself. My brain is diseased. Scientists hypothesize that the chemical balance in it isn’t right. I take medication every day trying to correct the balance in my brain. The type of disease I have is a form of schizophrenia that is called a schizoaffective disorder.

In the twenty years I have lived with schizophrenia my brain has tried, in its own way, to heal. Making art has been very important in that healing process. I feel that when I write, or draw, or paint my brain is involved in something very much like playing a beautiful symphony. When I make art my brain is at its best, functioning in a balanced, coordinated effort, using the highest and most complicated of thought pathways. Creative thought is beautiful thought. Making art is entirely wholesome. When I have failed at doing so much in life, in making art, I have succeeded. And this success is due to the twin facts of perseverance and skill. I have molded through years of practice a skilled schizophrenic brain. In psychiatric jargon I am both low functioning and high functioning. To live so divided, to be both very weak and very strong feels at times odd and not real. Making good art is like watching a very sick woman rise out of bed and dance a jig. You are shocked at what, in her delicate state, she can accomplish. Making art and being mentally ill is like the case of the magical cow. All day long it stands in the field and moos and chews grass. But for one special hour, at the break of dawn when no one is looking, the cow grows arms and writes sonnets. I believe that in the midst of most mental illnesses there are moments of health, and I know for certain that these moments of health are present in the making of art.

I think I finally know the secret of that audacious claim “Art Saves Lives”. I feel that I have a purpose in life, and that purpose is making art. Without a driving purpose I am lost. I must have a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and starting my day. Before I shut my eyes at night I must be able to look back over my day and identify some small accomplishment. I don’t have very much pride, but what scraps of honor I own, all converge on the statement, “I am an artist”. Making art is my past, my present, and my future. How lucky I am that art is like a strong rope, binding me down and tying my soul to life on this earth. Art has saved my life.”

All work copyright of Karen May Sorensen. All images above can be found in Karen’s gallery.