Schizophrenia and Art

Leaflight by Anna Harrington

Schizophrenia and art. The two things together produce an extraordinary effect.

Early on I realized my daughter had talent. Her art work was off the chart for her age. Around the age of 12 or so I started to see schizophrenia reflected in her art work, though I did not what it was at the time. Schizophrenia often does not fully manifest itself until early adulthood as was the case with our daughter.  I didn’t realize the extent nor the depth of what I saw in each new creation. I dismissed it as “artistic”. And indeed it was. Perhaps I was in denial, but no, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t see it as I do now. However, much of the illness still remains a mystery to me.

Schizophrenia and art together give us a glimpse of the illness.

I don’t think we can every fully realize what’s going on in the mind of someone with schizophrenia. Just to know it’s there has got to be enough for us as parents. The artwork, at least in our daughter’s experience, offers us a glimpse of the illness from her perspective. It’s heart breaking at times because the images are subtle, somehow unsettling and occasionally outright disturbing. They convey a type of mixed up confusion that can’t be organized or reconstructed into something more harmonious.

Even when the artwork may not in and of itself be particularly graphic or the content inappropriate, somehow the placement of color or image is just distorted enough- in such a unique way- that it strikes an element of discord that is unmistakable… in a word schizophrenic. The illness is hard to put your finger on; but you know it when you see it. (Or maybe not. This illness is deeply misunderstood and stigmatized.) Don’t get me wrong, in many cases her artwork is stunning and expressive to say the least.

I’ve often observed, in what seems to be imitation or perhaps in an attempt to be “avant guard”, the duplication or imitation of such artistry. Such attempts fall short of the real thing. It’s really not art then, if it’s not an authentic expression of what’s inside you.

Schizophrenia and Art Therapy

In my daughter’s case, art has been an integral part of her life and therefore a familiar and less intimidating outlet for unlocking or unleashing what’s beneath. It has helped her cope during psychosis and in times of recovery as well. I believe the artwork can not only be therapeutic for the individual, but also help those of us attempting to understand schizophrenia to gain some insight to the experience.