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  • Sarah Kingwell

Art is my Therapy

Updated: Apr 8, 2020





“Make your recovery the priority in your life” Robin Norwood


In this post I am going to share my journey, my own story and some of my experiences and how for me ART has always been a method of being able to express how I have felt during certain stages throughout my life. As a child, I have always had a sketchbook, pens, paint, and pencils that I would use to document my thoughts and feelings, from a very young age I remember having many sketchbooks where I would scribble, draw and even copy images from my favourite movies. When I studied my art foundation year at college in Trowbridge UK, I experimented with many mediums ranging from textiles, graphics, sculpture and of course painting, my teacher led me down the path of Fine Art, as my expressionist style of abstract paintings was where I found the most enjoyment. The main concepts of my Art throughout this year reflected my inner feelings about myself, using personal diary entries I stencilled and used images of myself to reveal my inner self outwardly, the process for me of expressing myself and my negative self-belief into an art form made me feel vulnerable but empowered to take my art further. I have always had this feeling of being lost, never really understanding myself, not having a purpose or a goal that excited me, and through these feelings of negativity towards myself I used art as a way to express my inner world, for a way to ‘find myself’ in my art.


Moving on to study a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Birmingham city university, I was able to move away from home, and attempt to find myself in another city. During my first year, my artwork resembled understanding my fluctuating emotions, by painting self-portraits each day using watercolour paints I noticed on the days where I felt okay I lacked inspiration and had to force myself to paint, I would usually on these days choose a range of colours, however on the days where I felt low or as I recall the days I felt lost on who I was, I was inspired to paint and during the process of doing a self-portrait, I also lost myself in the process of painting using darker more monotone colours, alongside more messy harsher brush strokes. Studying alongside this was Wassily Kandinsky’s colour theory, Kandinsky argued that artistic experiences were all about feeling, and different colours affect mood. Kandinsky’s thoughts on colour were similar to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s belief that different colours can convey certain emotions. Further expanding my studies I read Kandinsky’s book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, as I explored my feelings with the colours I chose to use and how it related to myself, constantly trying to find myself in my artwork. Kandinsky would say that artistic experiences were all about feeling, and spoke about the different colours with moods- he states that yellow could disturb, while blue might make people feel good, warmer colours like red and orange are considered lively colours, the cool colours like green, blue and purple are considered to be more peaceful.


For myself, the changing moment of that feeling of being lost and trying to find myself was ever re-directed by my tutor at the end of my first year, who said to me “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself”. Later to realize this is George Bernard Shaw quote, for that time however it shaped my life, my negative thoughts became more positive as I threw myself deeper into my art, living in the now and creating myself each day by allowing myself the creative freedom to paint my unconscious onto large scale canvases.


Thus leading me into my second year, where I committed to my studies and myself, creating organisation in my life, routine and slowly becoming more focused and determined on creating a life that had a purpose. My journey into art therapy began during this year, first I started exploring the concepts of dreams, concerning Sigmund Freud's dream psychology, I turned my dreams into art. Painting became an unconscious means of self-expression, every day I would go to my studio and experiment with photography and painting onto large scale canvases, the colours weren't important, it was the process, the shapes, the dreams that I painted into waking life. By studying Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic perspective of dreams I began to look at what my unconscious mind was telling me about who I am, or who I wanted to create myself to be. Sigmund Freud suggested that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. In his famous book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, Freud wrote that dreams are “...disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes.”. So I began thinking what is my purpose? Why am I studying Fine Art? What are my repressed wishes from my unconscious dream state trying to tell me?.


In the last term of my second year, I studied in Rome for three beautiful months, at the Rome University of Fine Art. At the time, I was in a happy relationship, so I Thought, studying in Rome and continuing to create myself and my life. What happened next led to, what I would call, a complete breakdown of self-esteem and self-love, relationship breakdowns can leave someone feeling hopeless and lost. There it was again, that feeling of the unknown, I felt completely and utterly lost, my sense of self was shattered, as I processed these emotions I couldn't bare to talk through with anyone, instead, I continued creating, I continued painting. This moment in time, in my life even though as painful and soul-destroying as it felt, was the moment I realised that art was my therapy. Whilst studying in Rome my art concepts were based around ‘La Vita Prima Della Morte’- meaning life before death, I was living and breathing and fully immersed in Art as my therapy, I then began to research extending my studies in Art Therapy, reading books, and developing my understanding of the importance of Art and recovery.


Then, in my final year studying Fine Art, I decided to move away from exploring myself, and further developed my understanding of psychoanalysis in relation to Child Development. Throughout my final year, I took my art practice on a journey of identity and the beauty of identity before we have a known sense of existence. My process adapted to relate my art to studies on child psychology in relation to Lacanian psychoanalysis, and his concept of the mirror theory largely influenced the materials I used throughout my work. Jacques Lacan proposed that the mirror stage was a part of an infant's development from the ages 6 months to 18 months, and it was during this stage where a child would recognise themselves in a mirror. For Lacan, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, the infant will identify with the image, which serves as a gestalt of the infant's emerging perceptions of self. Understanding the concept of child psychology gave me a deeper understanding of how my childhood has shaped my sense of self, that I longed to find and create. Graduating from university, was another time in my life where I was faced with change, I moved back home and went back to full-time work.

The year after I graduated, I wasn't prepared for change and I used this year as a time to numb my waking life, working full time on night shifts and living for the weekend. As the darkness grew, my ambitions, passion and positive outlook on life died. During this time I did create art, I did write in my journal, it was filled with poems of darkness and self-hate, my art was an outlet used only when I was far from sober, experimenting with different drugs and creating art was my new go-to hobby. This year almost broke me. Exactly one year later on the date of moving back home, I was on a plane off to volunteer in Zimbabwe, this excursion saved me and so did the people I met. Whilst in Zimbabwe I was sober, no longer was I numb to my emotions, no longer could I hide who I was to myself, I lived full of regret and self-disgust for who I had created myself to be. My soul was reignited by the people I shared this experience with, and beyond Zimbabwe, I began to find the light. From this experience in my life, I was able to feel again, I felt a new desire to help others; yes, of course, I wanted to focus on helping others as I wasn't ready to focus on helping myself.


Since Zimbabwe, I have changed career, starting working in a face to face fundraising role, then sales in Los Angeles, still at this time trying too hard to find myself- that burning urge to know who I was but never really ready to understand myself. And then my journey led me to Australia, still, so many challenges along the way, repeating same mistakes, and attracting similar people to my life and worst of all letting them control my life, continuously giving myself the excuse not to find myself or follow my passion for art, I was an empty shell and who I became was a mirror of whoever was around me. Never knowing who I was, never creating a person I wanted to be, never sober and never free.


Throughout all those years remained my desire to help others, to inspire and create change around the stigma of mental health, because I was sure suffering from mental health issues of my own; masking these issues with red wine, and putting everything into work. Finally, 2018 I escaped, I was freed, I quit my job, I listened to the signs, most importantly I listened to those who cared about me and now I began to create my voice, my own story, where I accepted that I truly do deserve to be happy.


Fast forward to today, April 8th 2020, I can tell you that in the last 2 years I have started my own small fundraising business with my partner, I’m working on my self-love, studying a diploma of mental health and beginning to work on being that one step closer towards opening the doors at SKART. What I have learnt is that life isn't about finding yourself or creating yourself, but it is about working on yourself in whatever way feels best for you, whether that's fitness, hanging out with friends, spending time with family or like myself creating art- I paint at least once a week, currently with the isolation I'm making sure I paint every single day, as I paint I get inspired to share my story and work on my dreams.


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