Olivia Sagan on the research behind 'Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing'

Olivia Sagan's latest book focuses on the unique connection between making art and the effect on mental wellbeing. In this article, Olivia explains more about the personal narratives and connections that inspired the publication of Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing: Reparation and Connection.

Check out the film that inspired the book!

In 2010, after talking to a colleague at the Maudsley Hospital in London, I put out a word to mental health service users and groups to invite people to attend a forum to discuss possible research into art practice and mental health.
On the day, we listened as people gave us ideas about a film, about documenting art practice; mental health; and ‘our stories’. One member put forward the title ‘Thou Art’ and the way he explained the totality and appropriateness of this title captured our imaginations, hearts and minds. ‘Thou Art’ became the title of a project which was eventually to gain Arts Council funding and support from the University of the Arts, London and later, the South London and Maudsley Charitable Trust.
With a very small team of people primarily interested in the area of mental health and creativity, including researchers, film makers and supporters, we set about designing a project that would be user led and user focussed. We would support and help to train people to interview, to film, to transcribe, to photograph and to pull together a film and data recording people’s experiences with mental illness and visual arts practice. In turn, we would learn much from them. It was the start of a terrific journey, which culminated (but did not end) with the film, which has had showings at the Tate Modern in London as well as numerous conferences, mental health charities, workshops, smaller galleries and universities, not only in the UK but overseas. Along the way I have received calls and emails and letters from people whose experiences chime with those of the participants. There have been some wonderful meetings and greetings, as well as much, much debate about art; wellbeing; mental illness and government policy.
With interest from Routledge in a book that would further explore the narratives and give more exposure to people’s unique experiences with art making and wellbeing, a further call was made in 2012 for other visual artists with histories of mental ill health to join in the conversation. This entire ‘data’ corpus, which consists of a wonderful collection of interviews both long and short, spoken and written, with its pauses, sobs, laughter and pearls of intense wisdom and despair, formed the basis of ‘Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing: Reparation and Connection’ published by Routledge in 2014. All credit should go to the participants, for their time, their stories and their images.
Olivia Sagan 2014


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