CRAZY ART- an excerpt from an interview about a new doco on Mental illness and art

I wanted to include an excerpt from this interview, as it helps people to understand those that hear voices better. I dont know when this will ever play in New Zealand, but hope it will one day.

You see see the whole interview witn J.T Turner from “Phoenix”  Santa Barbara on the NOOZHAWK website here

“Frustrated by state budget cuts to mental health funding, J.T. Turner, executive director of Phoenix of Santa Barbara, decided to become “more entrepreneurial” in his efforts to further the understanding of people diagnosed with mental illness by producing a film. Leslie Dinaberg sits down with the executive producer of the new documentary Crazy Art, which explores the link between art and schizophrenia by looking at the lives and work of three local artists, as well as that of Vincent Van Gogh

J.T. Turner: This movie is really a portrait of these three artists here in town who I know with schizophrenia and how they use art to help them recover. I’ve known them for about seven or eight years. One of them was a client of ours at Phoenix of Santa Barbara, in one of our residential programs, and that’s Rodger Casier. The other two — Lesley Grogan and Trinaty Lopez Wakefield — have had their work in the annual Mental Health Arts Festival in De La Guerra Plaza, so I came to know them from them exhibiting their work there.

I was totally impressed by the quality of the art, and as I came to talk to them, I realized these are amazing personalities. These are three very articulate people with very charismatic qualities who do amazing art. … Things just came together about a year ago, and I thought now is the time to do this…

We started shooting, and the idea was to focus on the art with these individuals and also focus on their story. How did they become artists? The interesting thing is that the movie is intentionally about identity. … Do they see themselves as primarily mentally ill or something else? Do they see themselves as an artist? … Identity is a really big issue in terms of recovery. So we ask them about that, ask them about their childhood, ask them when they were first diagnosed, in terms of how the art helped them along the way. It’s a real blend of their lives and their art.

LD: So it premieres at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

JT: The first screening in the film festival will be in Victoria Hall on Monday at 10 a.m. We’re calling that the sneak peak. And the premiere is the show at the Lobero Theatre, which is 5 p.m. Wednesday. We’ll have a panel after both…

…JT: And it’s pretty hard-edged in terms of it doesn’t try in any way to be a Pollyannaish version of psychiatric recovery. We wanted to find out whether art is helpful, and maybe it’s not. And we pull in Van Gogh. … Near the beginning there’s a little segment that we shot down at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena where we filmed Van Gogh’s “Mulberry Tree,” and we have a section at the end at The Getty where we’re filming Van Gogh’s “Irises,” and it’s pretty clear from his life that when he was painting his best stuff he was having the greatest struggles psychiatrically.

He was diagnosed, and the various symptoms he had weren’t termed bipolar disorder or manic depression in those days, but it looks very much like he would be diagnosed now with bipolar disorder — he had seizures and things, so it was complex. Plus he was eating his pain and drinking a lot of alcohol. It’s not a clear picture of what was going on, but he was in a psychiatric unit for a year, and while he was there he painted some of his most amazing stuff.

One thing we were interested in was how much of the art that these three local artists do is done in a pretty symptomatic state, and how that feeds into the quality of the art. If you say that Van Gogh’s art goes up in price correlated with how symptomatic he was, can we look at the local artists and say what happens when you’re doing fine or when you’re doing really well? Are you painting as much? Are you expressing or hearing voices or having hallucinations? Are you painting more intense stuff when you’re really symptomatic? It’s not just looking at recovery; it’s looking at how symptoms affect the art and maybe — and in Van Gogh’s case this was the sad aspect of it — he became so symptomatic that he was painting obsessively and driving himself more crazy. He wasn’t in recovery using his art. If he’d had a case manager, it would have been great for him.

LD: Does it also make you understand a little more clearly some of the issues people may have with noncompliance — not taking their medication — because obviously there is something exciting and fun and rewarding about being in that highly creative state, even if you can’t function outside of that in your day-to-day life.

JT: Yeah. There are some people who are manic depressed, bipolar, who will tweak their meds so they move from being in a depressed state, or a kind of stable state, to a manic state. Deciding if you want some drama or excitement, ease off on your lithium and start to get more energy and sleeping less, or maybe not sleeping at all — and wow, life is really happening.

LD: It’s interesting.

JT: Trinaty, in the movie, one of the things she says is, “If I paint too much I go crazy. If I don’t paint at all I go crazy. I’ve got to find some kind of place in the middle there.”

None of them says art cures them. None of them says art is the ultimate remedy. It’s not a magic wand. They are all on medication. The medication gets rid of maybe 80 percent of the psychiatric symptoms, and then you’ve got the remaining 20 percent that are still pretty horrific. Each of them complains about hearing voices that are really critical, and they have paranoid thoughts and suicidal thoughts and are really depressed. The art is working to diminish those symptoms.

I think one of the primary findings of the movie is that art functions like meditation. They get into the zone, they do the art, and as they are doing it there is simply no space for the voices. … There are various things that you can do to kind of get into the zone, where you are no longer worrying about your everyday issues — for the normal person — but for the psychiatric issues, it’s interesting that as they paint and do sculpture, those symptoms are sort of driven out. It’s almost like deep space for the psychiatric symptoms, because what’s there is this intense focus on the art. They are channeling some muse, and there’s no room for depression, no room for paranoia in that place. It’s really impressive.

LD: I can’t wait to see it. It sounds really interesting…

To see the whole article click on the link to Noozhawk above- there is also a great picture with the artcle.

7 thoughts on “CRAZY ART- an excerpt from an interview about a new doco on Mental illness and art

  1. Thanks for covering the story – I’m the director of the film. We’ve had an amazing response from both the mental health community and the public at large. It was a great project to work on and opened my eyes to the courage it takes those diagnosed with schizophrenia to live a “normal” life. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia.

    Would love to bring the film to NZ someday. I just took my first trip to your wonderful country in November on my honeymoon and had the best trip of my life.

    DVD’s will be available through sometime in the future.


  2. There is a difference between becoming “sober” (abstaining from alcohol) and “recovering” from alcohol addiction. Recovery calls for changes in your rational process, healing and fulfilling the vacuum that alcohol fills with something else that is not a individual, spot or thing. For spiritually-based recovery programmes such as A.A. and Women for Sobriety, this would necessitate a spiritual arousing and making changes in your life that would contribute to a contrasting payoff system than boozing.


  3. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.


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