October signals the closing of our calendar year. Feathered, winged, and other migrants are making for warmer climates, while others will tuck away for months of solitude. Some of us love October for Halloween, autumn and winter treats, and relief from the summer heat. For some, this is the climb onto the holiday roller coaster, feeding into a prolonged season of parties. For others, this time of year ushers in anxiety, depression, and often poignant grief for those who have loved ones departed.
There does not seem to be a path through life which detours all misfortunes and ends serenely. Despair, sorrow, inadequacy – these and more inevitable overtake us in this journey. Individuals are wired differently, sometimes resulting in miscommunications with family, friends, and society at large during times when they most need emotional support. Under prolonged conditions, these emotions invoke varying depressive states, which can evolve into disorders. Some people are even born with these chemical and hormonal balances.
Several national mental health organizations, such as The National Alliance on Mental Health Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and the American Hospital Association now designate October as Mental Health Month. The movement to raise awareness, to dispense harmful stigmatism, and to support individuals battling various challenging phases has gained much reinforcement from the global Arts community at large. One most notable current day artist (and ER nurse), Shawn Coss, created a phenomenal series in 2016 titled, Inktober Illness, and its relatable depictions almost immediately gained momentum with high profile society, including legendary Alice Cooper. Shawn Coss has often discussed how he uses Art to raise awareness and support for people manifesting various levels mental distress with his live interactive drawing sessions on Facebook.
Art therapy as a clinical and an academic discipline was already advanced as early as in the 1800’s by the Founder of Modern Nursing, Florence Nightingale. She published Notes on Nursing in 1860, and advocated strongly for nurturing patient psychological health, particularly during lengthy recovery periods. She observed that patients healed faster with mental stimulation. Nightingale advanced the use of beauty, interesting objects, and brilliant colors in Part V, Variety (58-63).
Arizona has an art therapy program administered by PSA Art Awakenings, with studios and galleries from Phoenix to Douglas. The past year has been a bit volatile for the program and its patients, as there was a very large turnover in administration. The artists and sculptors, however, have overcome the disruptions and continue to produce some very fine pieces of acrylic, watercolor, oil, and mixed media. The program has also provided opportunities for artists to produce kiln fired products for both decor and for practical use.
Southern Arizona is home to many artists of all mediums, and Cochise and Pima counties particularly host a very warm humanitarian artist community, with activists like Bisbee artist Pablo Pencil. Artists in Southern Arizona are remarkably moved to use their gifts to help others heal, such as Montigue Eaton, who feels such a strong conviction for art therapy, he is achieving his vision in a grassroots initiative to share his techniques and processes with the public. In observance of Mental Health Month, and in honor of the artists supporting the community through product and mentorship, there will be a series of articles focusing on how to use crafts, arts, music, and other hobbies as very practical tools for cultivating a healthy psyche. Thank You, Southern Arizona art community at large for sharing Hope, Happiness, and Healing. Featured works are from artists Cyn Kuhn, Bill Clark, Alex Wiest, and Desiree Beazell.