July 2013 book: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
All grades of psychiatrist were round the table on July 9th, despite the sizzling heat outside. For some, Grosz’s work was a distillation of 25 years’ therapy into an honest, simple tome: “What I’m describing here isn’t a magical process,” says Grosz of psychotherapy, “It’s something that is a part of our everyday lives – we tap, we listen”. Nicely put. And yet, for others round the table, there was something unnatural about this tapping.
“Which genre does it belong to?”, one member cried, holding aloft a stick of satay chicken. A forensic consultant sipped his orange juice and replied, “these are a series of case-studies”. This suggestion did not hold under scrutiny. The histories are mere pages long, some even lacking patients. For example, the chapter ‘Going Back’ concerns his odd gift to his father: a holiday to Eastern Europe, and thus to a childhood marred by Nazism. Even in the more patient-focused chapters, things seem rather well-wrapped for clinical realities. The first, ‘How we can be possessed by a story that cannot be told’, is about a mendacious patient who fakes his own suicide to upset Grosz. But then the ending is more Grimm than grim: he marries, settles – lives happily ever after. Some of us loved the strong presence of the therapist’s own life and humanity, loved also the subtle, jargon-free exploration of dreams. Others yearned for more warts, more confusion, and more obvious use of psychological technique. Orange juice was exchanged for glasses of viticulture from the warm South, as we approached something like a conclusion.
For all their allure, we agreed that there is a tension in Grosz’s tales, between clarified fact and coddled artifice. This is alluded to in the fly-notes, which describes the cases as “aphoristic”, an original thought expressed in memorable form. None other than Hippocrates was the originator of the aphorism, with his famous maxim on medicine: ars longa, vita brevis (the life so short, the art so long to learn). Fairy tales are also a kind of aphorism. And thus with Grosz: his studies are so short, the point they make is so clear, so elegantly put across, that some readers perceived hints of the artificial behind the seeming reality of his tales. Does this too-neat packaging of clinical truths matter? Perhaps not. Grosz is clear about his project, quoting Isak Dinesen who said: “Any suffering can be borne if it is put into a narrative.” He has done just this – indeed, done it beautifully with each case-tale. More than artful, perhaps even bordering on Art itself, these histories drew excited comparisons from works of poetry to the musical studies of Bartok. In the final analysis, we raised our collective glasses to Grosz, only to find our glasses empty. Well, such is life – and having examined it thoroughly, we closed our books.
September 2013 book: The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Sasz
(This meeting is rescheduled from 24 September)
Tuesday 12 November 2013 6pm Institute of Psychiatry Seminar room 6
Speaker meeting: Maria Walsh talks about her book Art and Psychoanalysis
In Art and Psychoanalysis Maria Walsh investigates how psychoanalysis has been an invaluable resource for artists, art critics and historians throughout the twentieth century. Artists as varied as Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic can be examined with the benefit of psychoanalytic thinking, and contemporary critics use psychoanalytic concepts as tools to understand how meaning operates. Walsh’s argument is that psychoanalysis, like art, is a cultural discourse about the mind in which the authority of discourse itself can be undermined, provoking ambiguity and uncertainty and destabilising identity.
This is a public meeting, all are welcome.
Filed under: Art
Unfortunately our 24 September meeting with Maria Walsh is cancelled. We are rescheduling for later in the year.
Our apologies for any inconvenience.
Filed under: Art
Have you ever wondered about the stories behind the sculptures you can encounter by Nelson ward at Lambeth Hospital?
They are part of over 5000 works of art collected by the British artist Edward Adamson (1911-1996) during his years at Netherne Hospital, where he pioneered the use of art as therapy. The Adamson Collection was on display and in storage at Lambeth Hospital from 1997 until 2012, when most of the 4500 drawings and paintings were relocated to the Wellcome Library. The art work was initially produced in a research studio as a form of diagnosis and treatment at Netherne in the early 40s, with its content scrutinised by treating psychiatrists: particularly Eric Cunningham Dax and Francis Guttman. Adamson then developed his thinking further and regarded that the artistic self-expression itself was healing. His studio became a safe and creative space for those with restricted freedom of movement.
The Art of Psychiatry Society is pleased to announce that Dr David O’Flynn, consultant psychiatrist at SLaM and chair of Adamson Collection Trust, will be joining us on 22nd October presenting a talk titled “The Adamson Collection: the Art of Healing”. The meeting will take place in the Adamson Room at the Maudsley Learning Centre.
All are welcome.
For more information, please visit
For those of you who missed our Enda Walsh meeting, here’s the podcast!
Part 1 is Enda Walsh interviewed, Part 2 is the Q&A
Filed under: Art
Unfortunately this event is cancelled but will be rescheduled for later in the year.
Our next event is David O’Flynn speaking about the Adamson Collection 22 October
Tuesday 24 September 2013 6pm Institute of Psychiatry Speaker meeting: Maria Walsh talks about her book Art and Psychoanalysis In Art and Psychoanalysis Maria Walsh investigates how psychoanalysis has been an invaluable resource for artists, art critics and historians throughout the twentieth century. Artists as varied as Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic can be examined with the benefit of psychoanalytic thinking, and contemporary critics use psychoanalytic concepts as tools to understand how meaning operates. Walsh’s argument is that psychoanalysis, like art, is a cultural discourse about the mind in which the authority of discourse itself can be undermined, provoking ambiguity and uncertainty and destabilising identity. This is a public meeting, all are welcome.
Filed under: Theatre
Playwright Enda Walsh joined us for meeting at the Institute of Psychiatry on 24 July 2013. Here he talks to Prof Femi Oyebode about psychiatry, his work and influences.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Art in the Asylum: creativity and the evolution of psychiatry is an upcoming exhibition at the Djanogly Art Gallery Lakeside Arts Centre Nottingham. It runs Saturday 7 September – Sunday 3 November.
The exhibition is curated by Dr Victoria Tischler and Dr Esra Plumer. Victoria Tischler has kindly agreed to be interviewed by AoP.
What is the inspiration behind the Art in the asylum exhibition?
I’ve been fascinated by art produced in psychiatric contexts since I was an undergrad working on a locked long-stay ward in Sydney, Australia. It was a strange place, an old- style asylum with a covered walkway from the river to the hospital. This was where they had originally transported the patients from boats which came up the river. The ward on which I was placed was surrounded by a moat which no longer contained water but the patients still used to pace around the periphery. There was no art therapy as such but as I was interested in art I would sit with people and encourage them to draw and paint to pass the time. Most were institutionalised, some were mute, others said very little and yet, rather than pace around, they would sit contentedly for lengthy periods creating the most cryptic and beautiful artwork with little guidance or instruction. I was struck by the intricate nature of the work, and how it expressed complex ideas, especially when people found it difficult to communicate verbally.
I’ve always been interested in art history and especially loved the work of the Surrealists and I learnt how art from the asylum had influenced their work, people like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Barneswho was an avid collector of patient art.
My current job includes a role as an arts lead in the Institute of Mental Health and I believe art has a powerful role to play in raising awareness of mental health issues.
Can you name a few of the exhibition’s highlights?
Dr W.A.F. Browne‘s collection of patient art is the oldest of its kind and has never been seen before outside Scotland. Browne was medical superintendent at the Crichton Royal Institution in Dumfries from 1838-1857. His approach was radical in that he recommended that patients painted and drew as part of their treatment. He even employed an art instructor at the hospital in 1846.
Work from the Adamson collection, recently moved from the South London and Maudsley Trust to the Wellcome Library contains a vast array of pieces collected by Edward Adamson, the ‘grandfather of art therapy’ who was employed at the Netherne Hospital in Surrey in 1946. The stone flints, collected by a patient in the grounds of the Hospital and then painstakingly hand painted are exceptional objects, especially one which strongly resembles a skull.
The work created by Mary Barnes at R.D. Laing’s therapeutic community Kingsley Hall in London in the 1960s is fascinating as she painted with her fingers, often depicting Laing and Dr Joe Berke (her responsible clinician) and ‘IT’, a spitting, writhing representation of her anger and fury. Berke is coming to speak at an event at the Broadway cinema in Nottingham on the 23rd October where we’re showing Luke Fowler‘s Turner shortlisted film about Laing ‘All divided selves’.
Also we’ve some exceptional work by many of the most famous outsider artists associated with influential continental psychiatrists such as the beautiful and complex work of Adolf Wölfli whose work was promoted by Dr Walter Morgenthaler from the Waldau clinic in Switzerland.
How did patient art come to be accepted outside of psychiatric institutions?
Several historical exhibitions displayed patient artwork alongside mainstream artists such as the British surrealists. This encouraged interest and acceptance of the work outside institutions. Also artists such as Jean Dubuffet avidly collected patient art work which increased interest and acceptance of the work in mainstream art circles.
Is the creation so art in mental health institutions as influential today as in the past?
Sadly the answer is probably not. With services being so stretched art is often seen as an add-on rather than integral to treatment. Yet, art has enormous therapeutic potential which I have witnessed first hand. It can be a route to recovery for both trained and untrained artists with some saying it helps create a new and positive identity away from the stigma associated with mental illness. The opportunity to exhibit and sell art can be hugely empowering for those with mental health problems. I have been involved with facilitating art-making in special hospital settings and for those individuals it is a powerful way to express their emotions and to communicate with others. There remains much interest in art created by people with mental health problems outside institutions which is a topic we explore in the exhibition and which we’ll be talking about at several of the events running alongside the exhibition.
Wednesday 24 July 6pm Robin Murray Lecture Theatre Institute of Psychiatry
Playwright Enda Walsh in conversation with Prof Femi Oyebode
We are very pleased to announce that Enda Walsh, Irish dramatist and screenwriter, will be joining us at our upcoming Art of Psychiatry Society meeting. Walsh made his name with Disco Pigs (2001), a drama about two dysfunctional teenagers caught up in an intense and ultimately violent relationship. He has written seventeen stage plays in total, including The Walworth Farce (2006), in which disturbed characters appear trapped inside a menacing scenario of their own making. His widely-acclaimed 1999 play Misterman is perhaps of most interest to psychiatrists. It was staged last year at The National Theatre following a sell-out run in New York. A New York Times review wrote “a seductive and terrifying portrait of a luminous madness”.
Walsh wrote the acclaimed film Hunger (directed by Steve McQueen) about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and also the hit musical Once, which is currently running in the West End after sweeping the board at the prestigious TONY awards, winning 8 categories.
Enda Walsh is in conversation with Femi Oyebode. Femi Oyebode is Professor of Psychiatry and Head of Department, University of Birmingham. He recently published “Madness at the Theatre”
We’ve had a really successful year this year at the AoP society and we hope you’ll join us for this amazing guest. By way of celebration, we’ll be providing plenty of food and wine. Please do join us. Meeting open to all.
Filed under: Theatre
AoP’s Carol Kan interviews Jonathan Heron following our 26 June meeting on Sarah Kane. Jonathan is the artistic director, Fail Better Productions and teaching fellow at the University of Warwick.