Blurred Lines and Shifting Sands: Working with Open Studio Models

 

by Katie Smith

I signed up to attend the first workshop of the new year held at London’s Studio Upstairs – with unthinking enthusiasm. Studio Upstairs works as an open studio where the Studio Managers, who are HCPC registered Art Psychotherapists work alongside members in a therapeutic community setting to bring about wellbeing.

On the day, I arrived five minutes late and brought along with me the anxiety of a first day back at school. I told myself to act my age, sat on my hands to stop them from shaking and tried not to think about a potential escape route. As I tried to ignore myself, I studied the room – a beautifully light studio of perfect size and layout, just small enough to settle into and large enough to feel free. I was warmly welcomed by the Studio Managers and shared smiles with other people attending the workshop as we introduced ourselves. Most others were MA students of Art Psychotherapy or already working within arts and mental health organisations, so as a new Studio Upstairs Office Volunteer, I was extremely aware of my inexperience. Following a welcome to the studio and explanation of where paper, paints of all kinds, inks, clay, lino printing materials, paper and reference books were kept, the art making began. In my case, it didn’t.

A second wave of fear had slapped me in the face. I watched each person in the room head towards whichever materials they felt appropriate and instantly get on with creating. Slowly my anxieties dissipated as I drew confidence from seeing others seemingly fearlessly focus on working. Despite my confidence growing, I felt like my creative block could be sensed and it was a problem. The studio manager to my left did sense this, but after a short and indirect chat, I relaxed again. The studio manager nearest me carried on calmly with her work and I drew my own calm from seeing this. I thought about how subtle this moment was, yet how effective it was in drawing me out of anxiousness just enough to allow some sort of creative release. How effective the community of Studio Upstairs must be for its individual members. One of the main roles of the Studio Managers (Art therapists) in this setting, is to ‘hold the space’ (Gadiel, 1992) and I felt I was witnessing exactly that. Interestingly, at the same time as there being support, there is also a natural movement to the working space, for instance, people worked over initial drawings with heavier materials like paint or discussed starting all over again because the piece didn’t feel quite right. An intention of the workshop was to put ‘emphasis on how containment and boundaries are held or lost when the studio is a fluid shared space’.

Personally, I had gone from being stuck in my own negative thoughts, gradually shifting out of those constraints and into a pleasant state of focus via drawing. I realise that this would not necessarily of been achieved outside of the open studio model and that must be the case for many people who are now involved in Studio Upstairs. In such a variety of cases the open studio model succeeds in allowing the unraveling of tied up and difficult emotions through a connection back to the artwork and a knowing that they are supported within a community.

David Bowie and the link between creativity and mental illness

by Monika Kalytyte

Yesterday was a day of sadness for millions of people across the world, as David Bowie, a bright star, departed our world, leaving behind a powerful legacy and writing the last line of a book which has marked a number of generations in oh so many different ways. David Bowie’s legacy, discoveries, visions and far-reaching influence, will undoubtedly remain with us, and I am confident it will be communicated with the generations to come in a similar way that it happened with Freddie Mercury.

The very element of Bowie as a person, that powered his great lyrics, his personas, his complex arrangements, his extravagant fashion ideas, his paintings, was also the part of him that he worried could at any moment defeat him.

His intellectual life was so sharp; he believed mind was not always an asset. ‘Sometimes a mind goes haywire. Sometimes a mind sends you into deep darkness, or even off the roof of a mental institution’, quite often Bowie talked about how he struggled in life with his fear of the same sort of mental collapse.

Creative people are genetically more likely to suffer from mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or depression. Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, demonstrated a link between some mental disorders and creativity: ‘To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.’

Some studies have backed up this notion, suggesting that writers, artists and others are more likely to have a mental illness and that people with certain mental illnesses, such as depression and mood disorders, appear somewhat more likely to be creative.

To be creative is to make sense of and connect the small details of everything we experience, the good and the bad. All the creatives naturally tend to think more, and think about their very thoughts too. This type of thinking, lets individual examine different subjects, related with personal knowledge or the outside one, in more depth. Analyzing certain subjects creates inner war, which is sometimes necessary for bringing up some artistic outcome; however there is a fine line between that, and getting driven into mental darkness.

Otherwise, one does not need to be an artist to create, to use art as a self expression tool. Among others, art is a healing, meditative, self motivating and emotional unloading tool. Art helps to communicate and send a message to the outside world.

Through our long year experiences, we can highlight the importance of art and creativity, as integral components of recovery. Painting, sculpting, performing, and other arts are pleasurable activities but can also be a channel for expression of those parts of the self, which may not have been expressed in any other way. Art can be used as a powerful healing tool to explore deep emotions – turn them, into materials. You have way to forget for the moment, what you can’t do, be empowered to improvise and innovate.  It has the ability to transform us, awaken us and our parts to recover and heal from earlier traumas or memories. Through artwork, people can develop their own personal vocabularies for a fuller identity.

There is still so much silence around the subject of mental health, yet it’s something that can affect all of us at some point in our live. Studio Upstairs works with people and for people, to provoke thoughts, to bring the understanding and to reduce stigma at the wide audience.

It could be a New Year’s resolution for all of us; end the stigma and discrimination around mental health and become open about it. It is so important to know that you are loved and that there are people around you that care and are there to listen.

Please join and support, in any possible and appropriate way, our beautiful community at Studio Upstairs. We really need your ideas, donations, time, to maintain our everyday life here, which is so precious and special for all of us and especially for our studio members. There is place where they feel independent, safe and able to unleash their creativity.

This year, help yourself by helping others!