Michael DiFabrizio documents the street art of Wollongong.
Are you receiving free therapy without realizing?
Earlier this year, Wollongong was ranked as the happiest city in Australia. Philosopher Alain de Botton has championed the benefits of art and its influence on the emotional state of a community.
In his book, Art as Therapy, de Botton and art historian John Armstrong proposed a new way of viewing well-known masterpieces: that the works can be therapeutic for their audience. This approach to art is not unusual, with the practice of art therapy becoming more common in Australia in the past fifteen years.
Art therapy considers the therapeutic process of creating art, or the use of art to communicate or indicate the mental state of a patient. Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of art therapy when used with clients suffering from memory loss due to Alzheimers and other diseases, cognitive function, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, dealing with chronic illness, and aging.
Wollongong City Council supports the development of the local artistic community through several projects, such as the Youth Artist in Residence program, Creative Dialogue Program, Public Art Policy, Viva la Gong festival and the Creative Spaces Strategy. These projects and events aim to enhance the unique identity and contemporary image of the city, but could they also be influencing the emotional state of the community?
Amy English was selected by Wollongong Youth Centre as one of two artists annually for the visual Artist in Residence program in 2012. During her residency, Amy held workshops with teenagers who were either very keen to create, or completely disinterested. “I feel I widened their perspective of what art is, beyond just sketching to things like street art, with new mediums and techniques,” Amy says.
“Overall the experience made me realize I do want to work with younger children, who don’t yet have preconceived notions about art.
“Among the 13-15 age range the feeling would often be that art is the ‘bludge’ subject.”
Kathleen Ryan talks with Toby Schaefer-Darling, Wollongong Youth Services manager and Erin Masters, the Development worker of the Circus program
Amy has also produced three of the ten panels currently displayed on the outer walls of the Wollongong Youth Centre, and selected several other young artists to each create a panel. She also successfully applied to have three panels placed on the side of the Wollongong City Gallery.
“I feel like having art on display around Wollongong has a huge impact on your mood and mental state,” Amy explains. ”Sometimes you walk through areas that are a bit rundown, and you just don’t want to be there – it feels dodgy, and a bit scary. When you don’t feel secure, or unsettled, that affects how you think and act. But when there’s art on display, even if you’re not necessarily paying attention, you get a real sense that people care about that area, and that it’s a caring environment. When you are paying attention, and even as an artist, it makes you feel more relaxed, and it’s more welcoming too.”
Bachelor of Creative Arts (Honours) student and local artist Tegan Russell is currently researching the connection between art and life. “A lot comes into the relationship between art and life, because the ultimate aim of life is happiness, and I’m looking at how art plays a role and how by connecting with art it can lead to a greater sense of happiness.”
The original meaning of art referred to the process of creating and not the object itself, and for Tegan that idea has shaped her way of life. She considers external influences to have less impact on the mental state than being in the moment and enjoying what you do.
“Negative things still happen, there are ups and downs, but rather than connecting yourself to things you just see them as they pass and don’t let it be absorbed as if it is you or part of you, you’re just aware that it’s there and observe it,” Tegan explains. “The art of living is becoming present, acknowledging the beauty and basically enjoying life as if it were art or an artistic process. The way that I’ve found is the clearest way for me to be happy is to think of my life as if it were an artwork and every day say “If my life is an artwork and I create whatever I want, what do I want today?”
But for Amy English, the sight of art displayed proudly throughout the city still produces an emotional response.
“I see creative work around the city and it makes me happy to know that someone else has found an initiative like that important, and actively supported it,” Amy admits. “It’s also great to know that an artist has put in theeffort to contribute to the continuing visual story of Wollongong. I’m proud of them without even knowing them, and that’s such an important part of being a community.”
Words: Aideen Weingarth
Amber Kinnear talks art with artists Gen Lore Finn and Shining Rainbow comment on the intrinsic ties between emotion, subconsciousness and art as therapy through their work and experiences as painters.