Art as a time out: Richard Dadd

by Carla Di Grazia

Nowadays it is increasingly more difficult to find time for yourself. Your mind is constantly bombarded with thoughts, worries and external distractions like the digital devices that certainly do not help to slow down your pace.

Art has the power to make time stand still, and allows you to take your head off from every negative or stressful thought and everyone transferring negative energy to you. Art can be a time out from people, emotions, but it can also be a second, in many cases, undiscovered, opportunity in your life.

From 7th November 2015 to 6th February 2016, BETHLEM MUSEUM OF THE MIND (part of the Bethlem Royal Hospital) is running an exhibition about the Victorian artist Richard Dadd (1 August 1817 – 7 January 1886) who created some important works while detained at the Bethlem Royal Hospital. 

Dadd was recognized for his detailed imaginative literary illustration but during a trip to the East he fell into mental illness, which resulted to killing his father. He was detained permanently at Bethlem and later Broadmoor Hospital but it was during his time at the Bethlem that he had the opportunity to continue to paint and create most of his famous works.

The exhibition “The Art Of Bedlam: Richard Dadd”,  is a great opportunity to find out more about the artist, but also about the story of the hospital itself which was founded in 1247 –  the first institution in the UK to specialize in the care of the mentally ill. 

The mission of the museum is to celebrate the achievements of people suffering from mental health problems. This exhibition, in particular, is an opportunity to break down some stereotypes about people in mental distress. A trip down to Dadd’s exhibition will allow you to to learn more from the insights that artists, like Richard Dadd, have pulled out of their difficult experiences.

He used his art as a ‘time out’ from worries and anxiety of everyday life, but in particular his creativity sustained him during the difficult years spent in the hospital. As Patricia Allderidge (Bethlem Hospital’s Archivist and Curator from 1967 to 2003) said: “Dadd survived as a person throughout these terrible years because he survived as a painter”.

This is very much in line with the work of Studio Upstairs, where we continuously aim to strengthen the creative identity of our talented service users, and support them in becoming members of the wider art community in London – one which we are aware that it is really strong, yet very competitive.

Richard Dadd survived because he had a second opportunity in his life: keeping his brush with him until the end of his years and painting continuously, allowing his works to live even after his death.

The story of Richard Dadd is yet another proof of the powerful healing qualities of art. I left the exhibition thinking that indeed, art can give you a second opportunity or maybe even a second life, if you really want. I like thinking that in some cases, having only some paint and a brush might be all you need!