I’m sure you have seen it. It’s on Pinterest. It’s on Facebook. It’s on Reddit and Tumblr. It belongs in the deepest bowels of Internet hell.
It’s memes like this:
This is dangerous thinking on multiple levels. Mental health illness is no laughing matter, and artists are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. It is even romanticized with great artists like Van Gogh or writers like Ernest Hemingway. Instead of writing off an artist with mental health struggles as a “genius” or as a butt of some joke, we should treat it as the mental health crisis that it is.
These memes trivialize the mental health battles artists go through. They suggest that all a suffering artist needs is some paint and an idea. But even if you are happiest when creating, such as I am, you still need someone to talk to from time to time.
I distrusted therapy for years despite the fact my own father is a mental health professional. I felt therapy was for the weak-minded and that I could solve my problems by burying myself into my artwork. I was wrong.
Any relief I feel from my artwork is short-lived. Without guidance from my therapy sessions, I was unable to cope with the existential loneliness that comes with being the “creative” person in your circle of family and friends. I went to therapy for the first time last year when I felt I was at a crossroads in both my career and in my personal life. After talking to my therapist, I reorganized my life and became more productive in my creative work. I was able to channel what I was feeling with the help of my therapist. And most important of all, I didn’t feel a pressure to constantly create just so I could feel better about my life.
Your therapist acts as a coach. They will assist you on your journey. You still need to do the bulk of the emotional work yourself, but you need a good support system in order to improve. And sometimes you also need a little medicated help. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to medications used to treat illnesses like depression. If you need medication, your therapist and your doctor can assist you better than a lump of clay or a canvas can. Mental health issues are treated with comprehensive treatment plans, not with oversimplified parts of that treatment plan like drawing, exercise, meditation, or deep-breathing.
Art therapy is helpful, but the difference between “art as therapy” and “art therapy” is that art therapy is still therapy. It’s not an artist shutting themselves off from the world and working on a Magnus Opus. Art therapy is a controlled environment with a mental health professional who specializes in assisting those who have difficulty expressing or processing emotional stress and trauma. The client is not healed by the art itself, but the art is a safe medium in which the client can express themselves and cope.
Let this outdated and wrong sentiment of art replacing therapy rest.