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Symptoms of Psychiatric Illness vs. Characteristics of the Painting Process
24th Jan 2011Posted in: Blog 0
Symptoms of Psychiatric Illness vs. Characteristics of the Painting Process
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It occurred to me, upon reviewing the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia that most, if not all of the symptoms are various forms of experience which a painter can encounter while painting. Perhaps this observation could be generalized to all artists engaged in the creative process accross all modalities whether in drama, music or visual art. Delusions, hallucinations, neologisms, clanging, incoherent thought, reduced speech, flat affect, difficulty maintaining attention on aspects of the environment, social withdrawl, regression, irrational thoughts, are but a few of the things going on. The list of possible symptoms is actually much longer and i have concluded that most of them exist in some form during my creative process. The difference is that in the creative process, the symptoms of mental illness can become adaptive. They are converted into useful behaviours, all directed towards the accomplishment of the painting. Hmmm, I am just starting to figure out what this means, but i am pretty sure it is going to mean that creative process can override, re-direct, transform some of the processes implicated in the observable manifestation of mental illness. A form of regression in the service of the Ego. A breaking down of the integrity of the ego for  the sake of rebuilding a stronger more complete ego which integrates the previous experience of vulnerability. There is definitely a sense that i have been through something when i come to the end of a painting. Not quite an ordeal, but an important experience which contributes to the whole of who i am.

There have historically been many parallels drawn between creative genius and madness. While most of these ideas were written about by art historians, we need not discount them all. Perhaps one of the links between the processes of creativity and psychosis is that they may on the surface resemble each other. If that is true then making art with schizophrenic populations could mean meeting the patient where he is in his thought process. As therapists, we have always heard that: ''you must meet the client where he is''. Perhaps engaging the creative process with people facing schizophrenia is a way of doing this. If you can get into the world of the client, as a therapist then you may be able to affect positive change there.

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