1st Edition

Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing Reparation and connection

By Olivia Sagan Copyright 2015
    198 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    198 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing draws on extensive research carried out with mental health service users who are also practicing artists. Using narrative data gained through hours of reflective conversation, it explores not whether art can contribute to positive wellbeing and improved mental health - as this is now established ground - but rather how art works, and the role art making can play in people’s lives as they encounter crises, relapse, recovery or ‘beyonding’.

    The book maps the delicate ways in which finding a means to tell our story sometimes is the creative project we seek, and offers a reminder of how intrinsically linked our life trajectories are with creative opportunities. It describes the wide range of artistic activity occurring in health and community settings and the meanings of these practices to people with histories of mental turbulence. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory, the book explore the stories and various forms of visual arts practices spoken of, and considers the art making processes, the creative moments and the objects which in some cases have changed people’s lives.

    The seven chapters of the book offer a blend of personal testimony, theory, debate, critique and celebration, and examine key topics of deliberation within the fields of art therapy, arts in health, community arts practice, participatory arts, and widening participation within arts education. It will be valuable reading for researchers, students, artists and practitioners in these fields.

    1. Chris, Kandinsky and the Autobiography of the Question: A Brief Introduction  2. Mental Illness and Creativity: Links, Myths and Arty Facts  3. Transitions: Participation and Collaboration  4. Lost for Words, Found by Image  5. Art Making, Unmaking and Repair  6. Mirrors and Connection  7. Afterword: A Singular Fascination


    Olivia Sagan is a Chartered Psychologist, Counsellor and Senior Lecturer in Pyschology. She is currently Academic Co-ordinator for Psychology at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK.

    "Sagan modestly introduces this book as the amassed findings of her "formalised curiosity" about "how art works for people when pretty much all else fails."

    She unpacks and unpicks the gamut of previous research, writing, thinking and policy-making, as well as interrogating the criteria and language which underpins it all.  She also offers some findings from a large number of her interviews with people with lived experience, sometimes over many years. In her words, "These narratives also bring into question a commonly held belief that an analytic journey can only be undertaken through a professional intermediary."

    Throughout the book Sagan offers few answers, instead raising one fundamental question or critique after another: but after sublimating her voice to those of her interviewees, it’s enormously welcome that she draws some conclusions and offers some ways forward in the final chapter.

    Sensitive, extremely moving, complex, layered, nuanced and sophisticated, it’s truly a heavyweight book in a slim volume.  One can only hope that it will reach an audience whereby it can fundamentally influence and improve treatment, policy-making and funding, as it rightly should." - D. Rosier, Artist and CEO at Experts by Experience

    "This is a very valuable and timely contribution to arts and mental health research and practice. Sagan provides a sensitive, thoughtful and nuanced consideration of this complex area, providing us with a very helpful overview of the debates surrounding arts, creativity and mental health. Her work is informed by wide scholarship, a careful awareness of her own position in the research and most importantly the stories of the artists with lived experience of mental ill health she has spoken to.

    Her book opens with a helpful guide to the reader that speaks of our different interests in this field. It is, as she says, a book that can be 'dipped in to, glanced at, picked up and put down, or read cover to cover' and there is much to gain in whatever way it is approached. This is a book that will be a valuable resource for practitioners and researchers in the field of arts and mental health.

    There is an excellent consideration of the complex debate surrounding the relationship between creativity and 'madness' and a fascinating overview of the strange history of the treatment, care, supervision or control of those who experience mental health problems. This provides the background and context for her main concern: listening in great depth to the experiences of her interviewees. She wants to understand how people she has spoken to reached out from within their turmoil 'to paper, camera, to canvas and to found objects...'. The stories are of huge value as is the quality of Sagan's listening that becomes so apparent through this book. Her work makes a significant step forward in our understanding of how making art can clarify, soothe and repair those in mental distress. The quality of her scholarship is a valuable antidote to the loose assumptions often made by practitioners on the one hand, and the demand for crude outcome measures on the other. I will certainly want to draw on this book in my own work and will be keen to recommend it to my students." - Dr Nick Rowe, York St John University

    "Olivia Sagan’s seminal book is a must read. In its scholarly research and eloquent, compassionate reflection and "organisation" of the narratives, it sheds necessary investigative light and contemporary discourse on the field of arts in health set against the historical landscape. It illuminates the nuances and complexities of the human story of mental illness and wellbeing with at the utmost forefront the individual's experience with creativity and visual arts." - Helen Shearn, Head of Arts Strategy at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK

    "This powerful little book reads in part as a journey through time and history, linking art with the inspiration of madness. Using a constructivist paradigm, the author draws on evidence-based research and documents the journey of self-expression, suffering, and healing of individual patients. As this book reveals, expression through the creation of art brings meaning, purpose, insight, and healing to those suffering from mental illness." -S. W. Gustafson, Elmira College, CHOICE