I notice words. I notice the arrangements they are laid out in. I have questions about those arrangements when I find the logic of whatever statement is being made faulty. Mental health issues treatment represents a black hole for the dispensing with any hint of logic in any statement made. I think we are still in the dark ages when it comes to the treatment of human distress chiefly because of the medical model approach to problems. Problems demand solutions, and a pharmaceutical is not the solution to any problem.
Huffington Post is carrying this article, authored by one Michael Friedman, with the heading, Art Helps People Live With Mental Illness. My most visceral response to this headline is to query why anybody would want to live with “mental illness”. An alternate heading, for instance, might run, Art Helps People Live Without Mental Illness. Apparently either art hasn’t progressed so far, and “mental illness” is still too clinging, for us to make any such statement right off the bat.
I am visiting the HAI Art Studio. All of the artists have mental illness, and the studio is funded as a mental health program designed to facilitate rehabilitation. But I would never have known that without being told.
Ask, live, and learn.
Everyone at the studio is working from his or her own artistic vision. Francis Palazzolo — the creative director of the program and a working artist — says that the individuality of the artistic experience is at the heart of the studio’s philosophy. “We do not have a single standard.” Sometimes Mr. Palazzolo offers suggestions to help the artists realize their personal vision or to experiment doing something different and challenging for them, but the goal is for each artist to be engaged in the effort to create images that speak to them personally.
What is the function of art? I imagine a person could waste reams of paper on that subject, and at the end of it all we’d be right back where we started, clueless. What is the function of a human being? It isn’t really important that we remember that a person labeled “mentally ill” is a person who dysfunctions. Leave it to psychiatrists. The function of a human being would lead to an equally annane and misdirected waste of paper if pursued to it’s most illogical conclusion.
When school is therapy, and art is school, I would hope there is a point at which students graduate, and patients recover.
I’m back on the subject of identity questions I’d like to pose to our student/patients, such as, are you a “mentally ill” person with an art hobby, or are you an artist who happens to be “mentally ill”? Career “mental illness” you will find, in this sense, can interfere with the creation of art. Likewise, I think that art might have a tendency to interfere with a “mental illness” career in optimal circumstances. We would hope maybe the “mental illness” identity could shrink to microscopic dimensions of insignificance, and the artistic identity might grow into more monumental proportions.
This is not to say that these residents and visitors to Soho have any less right to be there than any other inhabitant of that ville. I think such programs a good thing, and there is always the possibility that a formerly full-time mental patient might make a successful transition into the field of arts and crafts. Hopefully these “mental illness” labels don’t have to stick beyond any token advantaging use to which they may be put.
“We need more programs like this,” Mr. Johnson tells me. “We need people to advocate for more funding so that more and more people with mental illness can have art in their lives and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”
We need more programs that offer a full time mental patient the prospect of making a successful career change. I would hope that a program such as this one could potentially become one of those programs. We have more than enough adult kiddie art therapy kindergarten-type mess areas. Let’s hope this program can aspire to be a little better, and more fulfilling, than the obscure permanent misplacement that that kind of cul de sac must all too often represent.