Last week was mental health awareness week, and artist Ryan Brunty, visited to discuss the importance of mental health through his re-creation of famous icons like Love your Melon and Nirvana into depressed monsters. In his own words saying, “it is okay to have bad days.” This theme permeates this past week as mental health awareness week attempts to erase the harmful construction of always fitting into the mold of a “Happy Cobber.”
Brunty’s event is timely as we all take a shaky breath with finals sneering around the corner. But in the midst of it all, mental health, like Brunty discussed, is perceived as an “okay” reality for creatives. It is assumed that as an artist you best art comes from brooding in your dark states of mind. This assumption has surpassed stereotypes and has become a concept so deeply synonymous in art that many artists use it as defining characteristic. As an art major, we often talk in our classes about it and all artist sentiments are the same. We feel as creatives, that these “extreme” mindsets in mental health have allowed us to tap into our emotions more readily and our art has been therapeutic many times, but the mental health requirement isn’t anywhere close to a requirement for our art.
The construct of mental health being a necessary feat of artists is garbage, and the construct has been pushed for so long it is deep in our minds. Many artists I know have shared that with proper treatment of their mental health, they worry the quality and authenticity of their art will diminish. Artists with bipolar disorders that heavily create in their manic phases, overdrawn with ideas and questions, get into ruts when in their depressive slump and fear that their creativity will never come back. Mental health should not be the backbone of any profession, creative or otherwise.
Mental health stigmas are a huge issue in our society and having the understanding that visual artists show credibility or authenticity through facilitating and “channeling” bad mental health is just plain wrong. We are so worried about artists being set aside from other professions that we expect their reality to be the stigmatized dark and emotional mindset full of angst. That is a lie. Artists exist within everyone, no matter if that becomes your life’s work or not. At any time, you have the chance to succeed in being an artist. Creativity is a trait within all humans not simply a gift or adaption certain of us have. Creating art and all the different ways that can be expressed is something we all continually do. Having or not treating bad mental health does not make you more of a creative. The concept that mental health is an asset to an artist is a narrative that needs to stop. Not all Cobbers are happy, and in turn, artists can and should be happy and healthy instead of continuing bad health in the sake of art. Art doesn’t depend on bad mental health.