Saturday, 17 May 2014

Art and Altered States of the Mind

I was inspired by a recent trip to the Orleans House Gallery in London, where I visited the Art & Soul: Expressions exhibition.

Art & Soul is an organisation that provides an outlet where people with mental health issues can express themselves and develop new skills. The exhibition included artwork from members of the organisation from all over London, and there was a huge variety in the artwork displayed.

Window of Opportunity - Paul Gadd (Art & Soul)
Whilst I am able to appreciate the skill and time that goes into producing a piece of art, as a less creative person when I go to art galleries I find myself more interested in the name artists give their piece, and I enjoy trying to find a link between the title and art. At the Art & Soul exhibition it was all the more interesting, as I found the link between title and art to be even more abstract. (For example, Paul Gadd's "Window of Opportunity" shown above.)

After visiting the exhibition, I was keen to explore further how different mental states can affect artwork. Through searching online, I discovered the work of Bryan Lewis Saunders. Saunders created a unique collection in which he was the subject with an altered mental state, but a state that changed with each self-portrait he produced. The change in his mind-set came about through experimentation with different drugs. Saunders says, “I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of self. So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence.” The results and his artwork are fascinating, and show a snippet of just how mind-altering drugs (hallucinogenic or not) can be. Below are just a few examples:

Created whilst under the influence of (L-R): Hash, bath salts and psilocybin mushrooms. (Saunders) 
Created whilst under the influence of (L-R): heroin, ritalin and crystal meth. (Saunders)


I also researched more about the link between mental health issues and the effectiveness of arts as therapy. I came across scientific studies that have been conducted to explore this topic, and many found that there was a positive correlation, and that many of those taking part in the therapy reported improvements in self-esteem. This is not surprising I feel, as it is a well known fact that art can be used as a medium to express yourself however you like, but perhaps this scientific proof will encourage further development into different forms of therapy rather than lying on a couch in someone's office.

Another form of art, music, has huge therapeutic potential. Listening to music is one of the few activities that uses your entire brain, and therefore is considered an extremely useful form of therapy for those with mental health issues. As we all well know, listening to music can affect our mood - relaxing us before a stressful event, or helping to get ourselves in the mindset for a trying situation. The picture below demonstrates some of the key areas of the brain activated whilst listening to music. Hopefully this discovery of music's widespread effect will encourage researchers to look further into this field.

If you would like to learn more about the Art & Soul organisation, click here for the exhibition website.

Or, click here for a link to Bryan Lewis Saunders' website. 


  1. that exhibition looks so interesting your blog is so interesting to read!! xx

  2. This post is great - I bet a lot of the greats were under the influence of something too.

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