Arts and minds at the Tate

Tate Britain is working with the NHS to help people with mental illness

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance," Aristotle said. People dealing with the devastating effects of mental illness say that, for them, this is especially true. But while the value of art therapy is widely recognised, galleries have, until now, been considered daunting and inaccessible to sufferers.

A new collaboration between Tate Britain and art therapists at Oxleas NHS Trust in south-east London hopes to break down some of the psychological barriers that have hampered the use of public art to help people affected by mental illness.

In the first stage of a groundbreaking project, parents and carers of children with mental health problems have been encouraged by a Tate curator and art therapist to study a number of famous works. Their reactions and interpretations can be heard by visitors to the Tate galleries as audio guides to the exhibits from tomorrow. The next stage will be to bring in mentally ill people themselves.

Neil Springham, chair of the British Association of Art Therapists and head of art therapy at Oxleas, said: "Art has a power; it can move people in lots of ways, but only if they engage with it on a personal level. For people affected by mental illness who may have a lot of personal pain, this can be extremely difficult.

"This two-year project has been a way of bringing people with enormous vulnerabilities into galleries and helping them to emotionally engage with the art so that they can use this centre of excellence to improve their health and well-being."

Lord Howarth of Newport will tomorrow open the Advancing Arts and Mental Health conference at Tate Britain. Formerly an arts minister under Tony Blair, he is pushing for the Department of Health to recognise the value of art as therapy.

Tate Britain wants to increase public discussion of mental health issues. One in six people have a mental illness at any one time. The gallery's managers believe many visitors will be interested in its alternative interpretations of classic art works.

Felicity Allen, head of learning at Tate Britain, said: "This is part of our work to address the imbalance that exists in this country, which means there are plenty of spaces to discuss physical health problems but very few to discuss mental health.

"We see this as a double win: we want to provide a platform for people affected by mental illness to speak, but this is also very useful for our visitors, who we don't know personally, but many, through their own experiences, will be more interested in this emotional route into the paintings rather than the more traditional art historical interpretation on our audio guide."

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait (Francis Bacon)

Fay's 19-year-old daughter has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia: "My daughter sees things too. When she was younger she'd be like awake but asleep. She'd scream and it would go on for, oh, an hour or so in the night and she'd be so terrified. She'd look at me like I was a monster with two heads. When she went to the psychiatrist at 16, she did tell him that everyone's head seemed like the size of a pin. And when she looks at me, it's like she's trying to focus, trying to see through... to see me clearly."

Torso in Metal (Sir Jacob Epstein)

Jill has a 26-year-old son with paranoid schizophrenia: "People think my son looks scary. But I think he's like this sculpture. If you look, he's really soft on the inside, under the armour. My son had to develop a shell. But I'm his mother; I can still see the pain he feels on being different. As he got ill, his friends would try to keep in contact. But with even the best will, they couldn't cope with the silences and his tiredness. It wasn't really the bizarre behaviour. The look on that sculpture looks like a twist of pain. I think he really felt it when he couldn't keep his friends. I find this hard to look at."

The Saltonstall Family (David Des Granges)

Abbey has a 38-year-old son with post-traumatic stress disorder: "This painting makes me think about how families cope with mentally ill brothers and sisters. Our children are ill and they will be different. The children we thought they were going to be are dead in a way. That's like the lady in the bed. But we can't hold on to the past. My son is very caring and it frustrates me that the others don't see that. When I first looked, I think he [in the picture] looks like a man who can't let go of the past. I think he looks like a proud man now. I like the way our minds wander in this picture."

British Channel (John Brett)

Alan's wife and daughter, 27, have both been diagnosed with schizophrenia: "People are drawn to water when they have problems. They go to the coast and watch the waves. It's important to get away or it gets into your head. I believe mental illness can be catching just like any other illness; if you spend too long with it you start to lose your perspective and you get problems yourself. You do feel guilt but it's important to get away, because if you didn't, you'd go under too and then, where would everyone be? I find this really peaceful; you can almost hear the waves! [long pause] No, I could look into that for ages."

Nocturne: Blue and Silver (James McNeill Whistler)

Debbie's husband and son, 19, both suffer from psychoses: "I don't like it, it looks depressing. Like what my bad days can be like, all gloomy. I've always been afraid of the dark evenings, and this makes me think of that. But since listening to what other people have said, I think what I feel is more to do with my memories than this actual picture. I liked it more when someone said they can see it's like the peace of the morning. It's weird how the picture looks so different when you look at it someone else's way. Nice weird."

The Cholmondeley Ladies (British school)

Jenny is the mother of two children. Her 26-year-old daughter has cannabis-induced psychosis: "It reminds me of my children. All from the same family yet so different. We can't understand why one child's all right and the other is so ill. You look at the picture and wonder what their lives will be. But also, the more you look at the picture the more different they all look. Someone said the lady on the left looks more anxious than the other. I can see that now it's been said. Looking at it now, I've realised all my family photos in the lounge are pre-illness. I think we are trying to keep that bright child visible when so few people see her like that now. As her mum, I still see her in there, beyond the schizophrenia."

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee