Did you know Vincent Van Gogh was schizophrenic? Schizophrenia is one of the most misrepresented mental illnesses out there. Affecting 0.3% of the population, schizophrenia takes place among the most complicated and hardly treatable mental illnesses. Some of the schizophrenia symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, speech, etc. But why did we mention Van Gogh? Well, not surprisingly, “art” has been proven to have a very close relationship with this mental illness. Today, we are going to talk more about how art is used for two things at the
same time: to look deep into the illness in abstract detail and for treatment purposes.
We will start with how the art itself, especially paintings, can reflect the mental state of the artists with schizophrenia. It seems to be a very interesting series of artwork to digging deeper into. An example to give at this point would be the famous painting “The Scream” by Edward Munch.
Edward Munch suffered from schizophrenia and depression throughout his whole life, and he states the effect of it with the words “I cannot get rid of my illnesses, for there is a lot in my art that exists only because of them”. Including The Scream, Munch’s schizophrenia paintings consist of figures with evident feelings of despair. The wide strokes and the combinations of colors reflect Munch’s mental state, giving us an indirect insight into how schizophrenia is experienced in more of an abstract way by emphasizing the intense range of feelings that is the cause of the biological/cognitive symptoms.
As we mentioned, yes, art helps artists to reflect and express what they experience and also helps us to get very valuable insights into the experience of these mental illnesses, but the more interesting part here is that art is used to treat schizophrenia to some extent too. This is where art therapy comes into the spotlight. Many of the problems with the therapy methods used for treatment is the idea of confrontation. Getting people talking about their experiences is frustrating for many people because the feeling of knowing that no one, even an expert in the field, can enter your brain and examine your thought processes is very common, which makes people think that they will not be understood a hundred percent. However through the sessions, instead of talking, schizophrenic patients draw, paint, and make collages to distract themselves from the symptoms. It helps the patients to fixate on the activity that is given to them, repressing the voices in their head, etc., by simultaneously creating a space for “creative expression” (White Swan Foundation). In addition, art therapy is also effective in reducing the many side effects of the medications assigned to them like drowsiness such that the activity keeps their brain active. The sessions can be held individually or in a group format which also helps them gain social skills.
To gather, art again has an important role in schizophrenia in various ways as it does in many other mental or neurodegenerative illnesses. It is fascinating how everyday science and other practices show us the importance of actually being able to express ourselves through art or other forms of expression. Looking deeper into these art pieces of schizophrenic artists and knowing how art is used for treatment purposes is definitely crucial when trying to understand schizophrenia, which to this day remains a mystery.
"Role of art therapy in treating schizophrenia." White Swan Foundation, www.whiteswanfoundation.org/mental-health-matters/understanding-mental-health/role-of-art-therapy-in-schizophrenia#:~:text=Art therapy is useful in,to cope with the illness. Accessed 9 Oct. 2015.
"Schizophrenia Art – The Relationship Between Art and Mental Illness." Art In Context, artincontext.org/schizophrenia-art/. Accessed 25 Feb. 2022.