Awakening Creativity
by HEIDI VON SCHREINER
JANUARY 6, 1999
WEDNESDAY JOURNAL (Oak Park, Illinois)

Throughout history, a disproportionate number of famous artists have suffered from various mental illnesses.  Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaughin and Georgia O'Keefe are just a few of these.  Current research by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison strongly suggests that there may be an actual link between mental illness and creativity.

Beginning Jan. 8, the Oak Park Art League's exhibit titled "Awakenings" will explore this link by showcasing the work of approximately 20 current artists who are survivors of mental disorders.

The League's executive director, Jessica MacKinnon, feels this exhibit can help break down the stigma of mental illness by illustrating that those who suffer from them are not different from the rest of us. The Awakenings Project, which is curating the exhibit, was founded in 1997 for just this purpose.  The group has quickly become an important source of support and exposure for artists who suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses.  This is, in fact, the rapidly expanding group's third major art exhibit.

.Awakenings' co-founder Robert Lundin notes, "These exhibits help motivate artists to continue to produce and to strive for excellence in their artwork.  People surviving mental illness are often devoid of an identity because they feel the label 'mentally ill' is what defines them. Making art gives these people another label--that of artist, which he finds preferable.  He himself is a photographer who suffers from manic depression.

.William Alexander, another co-founder of Awakenings, feels that art can be healing. An Oak Park artist whose paintings are full of raw emotion, Alexander says that, for him, his art is a way of "putting a negative release into a positive form.  This (art) is my medication." A long-time member of the Art League, Alexander has lived in Oak Park for 30 years.

Mackinnon is quick to point out, however, that she would not have been so interested in this show if it had concentrated on art as therapy only.

"This is a show of work done by exceptional artists who just happen to have some form of mental illness.  I was very impressed with the quality of the artwork," she says.

.Trish Evers, professional artist in her own right, and a co-founder of Awakenings, is not surprised that people with mental illness have quite a capacity to create fine art.  "Artists in society have traditionally been the outsiders, and art is not generally a mainstream activity.  Because of the stigma we face, people with mental illness are generally forced out of the mainstream, and so the two link up.  People with psychiatric disorders are striving to communicate and art is such a positive form of communication."  Evers has shown at other professional venues throughout the country for many years, but feels the most acceptance through her association with Awakenings. She says, "At Awakenings, we come together to make a statement to the public."

.Irene O'Neill says these exhibits show how much people can do in spite of a diagnosis.  "The proof is in the pudding, and these are true artists who express themselves honestly."

The Awakenings Exhibit runs from Jan 8-31 at the Oak Park Art League, 720 Chicago Ave.  Gallery hours are from 1-4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.  A reception open to the public will be held for the artists on Saturday, Jan. 9, from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

In addition, on Sunday, Jan. 17, Intuit Gallery Vice President and Board Member Michael Bonesteel will give a lecture on the link between creativity and mental illness at the Oak Park Art League, which will be followed by a panel discussion featuring some Awakenings artists.  The talk begins at 3 p.m.

Copyright (c) 1999,Wednesday Journal