Sunday, September 16, 2012

Art for Heart and Mind's Sake

‘When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’

So wrote St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. For the majority of us, such is the case with most aspects of our child and adult lives. However, in my case there was a flaw in the process and it is called ‘art’; or to be more precise, the ability to draw and paint. Words were never a problem; neither was music; but as a child I was lost with a pencil or a paint brush. Throughout my adult life, I have found it difficult to break away from the childish representation of a tree or house that I learned to draw when I was about three years old. It may have worked for L S Lowry, but I am not even sure that I can reach his standard of depiction. 

It was therefore a great honour and an eye-opener to spend twelve days recently in the company of five of the world’s greatest living artists; to study their work, listen to them speak about their styles, watch them at work, and to receive the occasional tuition from them. In no particular order, they were Viktor Shvaiko, Bill Mack, Michael Godard, Gary Welton and Adam Scott Rote. If you are not already familiar with their work, I recommend spending some time looking at their official websites in order to gain a deeper perspective on what I am writing about. What you will see is that they all have very different and distinctive styles. Some of them have additionally had very difficult and troubled pasts (as reflected in the books, ‘Journey to the West’ by Shvaiko, and ‘Don’t Drink and Draw’ by Godard).

Watching them work, they make it all looks so easy. However, all five men are masters of their art and have spent decades at perfecting their styles. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from them, and the greatest lesson I brought away with me is just how cathartic the process of producing a piece of art can be. It doesn’t matter whether it is a simple pencil sketch, an abstract colour-filled vision, or a moulded lump of clay; it is the process of producing the end-product that is of immense personal value.

Art Therapy has long been an unsung hero in the world of medicine. Funding for such treatment is often very limited, and the ability to access formal courses is frequently restricted to a few places through psychotherapy departments. That aside, it forms a valuable resource for the treatment of many different types of disorders, from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, to autism and other complex communication disorders. Artists may be interested in the website of the British Association of Art Therapists (; alternatively, Wikipedia provides an article of general interest on the subject (

For me, fine art will no doubt prove to be an elusive skill. However, after my time recently in the company of the aforementioned five men, my eyes have been opened to the benefits art in general has to offer for even the most juvenile of artists. As the Swiss painter, Paul Klee (1879- 1940) said ‘Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible’. As a doctor, and from a psychological perspective, I can only concur.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 9th August 2012.)

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