Art and Community | VMIAC Blog

As part of Mental Health Week, we reached out to members and followers of VMIAC to share their experiences with communities, and how those communities impact their mental health.

We received many responses from people with lived experience of mental and/or emotional distress who discussed various amazing support groups, outreach programs, not for profit initiatives, etc. – all supports we typically think of when we think of mental health communities. However, there was also another community that was often discussed but was never the focus. In fact, it was often paired with the disclaimer of I don’t know if this counts?”

This community was the community built through art and creativity, and though it may not be the first thing we think about when we talk of communities and their impact our mental wellbeing, its importance is something that should not be so readily understated.

Our brains are notorious for being complex machines, full of countless ideas, concepts, feelings and experiences that can be difficult to pin down and filter. This can be especially true for those of us who have a lived experience of mental health issues. This complexity can also make it extremely difficult for us to express our needs, wants, hopes and dreams, in a way that can be coherent to ourselves as well as others. This is why we create art.

When we create, we take all those complex thoughts in our head and turn them into something tangible, something beautiful. Regardless of whether it’s made with a paintbrush, a pen, or a musical instrument, art can give us insight that can be difficult to match. This is only one reason why we should not discount the power of creativity and its benefits to our mental health. 

We never create art in a vacuum. If you sing in a choir, or play in a band, you will know what it’s like to be surrounded by people who want to help you develop and nurture your creativity. You play off each other. You encourage each other to try new ideas and look inside yourselves for that inspiration or concept that will push your art to its next level. The same can be said for anyone who has ever joined an art collective. Through collaborating and sharing ideas with like-minded artists, you build a supportive community, or in many cases, a chosen family, drawn together through creative expression. These communities do not stop at just talks and discussions about art. They evolve beyond that as communities come together to support each other through all aspects of life, using art as a medium for that support. Your bands drummer could be the person who offers you a place to crash when you have got nowhere else to go. Your friend who works in watercolours may paint you a gift for your new apartment to make it feel more like home. The contralto in your choir may be the person who gets you in touch with an amazing new psychologist. All of these things may only be tangentially related to your shared creative outlets, but that connection can be your strength when you need it.

The therapeutic nature of art is not something that has gone unnoticed. Art therapy is an entire field in mental health support that looks at the amazingly therapeutic aspects of art and aims at helping people build connection and improve their mental wellbeing through a creative medium.

For those following our Mental Health Week content, you will see us share a digital art gallery, where our members have created art relating to their feelings of community within the mental health space.

There is a beautiful quote from Hannah Gadsby’s, a comedian with a background in art history, “Nanette” that we often think about. During her set, Gadsby, works to dismantle the myth that pain and suffering are essential to “good” art; and that mental health challenges are the key to creating something amazing. To do this she references famed Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gough, whose struggles with mental health were an ongoing part of his life. “Do you know why we have the sunflowers?” asks Gadsby, “It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need – connection.”