Hearing Voices, Seeing Things: Art & Mental Health by Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger.
The project involves artists and the Serpentine gallery working with various groups of people with various mental health issues. This furthers the question I hope to discuss ‘what actually is a mental health issue?’. The project features a range of issues from memory loss conditions to behavioural problems. The project aims to increase awareness of mental health issues by using art and art therapy to challenge preconceptions and stigmas.
Art and artists can give those with mental health issues a language and a voice to get their thoughts across. It allows them to explore their feelings and express themselves. Many used humour as this makes the difficult topic seem more light-hearted. It led me to think of the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ which I hope to incorporate into my work somehow.
“In the art world mental health is often viewed in terms of the curious drawings, perverse sculptures or unsettling texts made by patients, rather than the experience of a condition itself” (page 19). Instead of treating mental health issues as a curiosity, I hope to help people to realise just how common they really are.
“Mania, melancholia, existential angst and myriad other psychological states have come to be represented by aesthetic or intellectual tropes and motifs” (page 19). Some issues can have very few outward symptoms and so do not conform to some more extreme expectations of ‘mental illnesses’.
“No amount of empathy can dissolve barrier between observation and experience” (page 21). I hope that having personal experience of anxiety issues will help me to have an insight and break down that barrier as I have been on both sides. The book talks about the case of ‘us and them’, however, that will not be the case for this project. I hope this will mean my approach is much more empathetic than patronising. I hope that I can get people involved somehow during the project, whether that be through interaction or contribution.
Many find it difficult to discuss issues such as these as “decades of political correctness have taught us to avoid direct mention of any condition beyond ‘normality’” (page 25). I hope to confront these issues and aversion to discussion head on.
One of my favourite projects from the book was one that involved young carers. The artist gave the young people a disposable camera each and allowed them to explore their local area almost allowing the audience to then see life through their eyes.
The book was really useful in opening my eyes to the broad spectrum of mental health issues and ways to combat them.