Art of discovery

News: Art of discovery
Kate O'Brien and Dr Susannah Colbert in front of The Chaff-Cutter

Don't you just love art? It inspires. It divides. It opens minds. It is used to help people with mental health issues.

A group of service users were inspired during a visit to Dulwich Picture Gallery recently. They were there as part of a scheme called The ‘Life Story' Book Art Project.

The project is being run by Dr Susannah Colbert, a clinical psychologist with Greenwich Assertive Outreach Team and trainee psychologist Kate O'Brien.

Dr Colbert said: "We are visiting the gallery on Tuesday afternoons for four weeks. At the gallery, we spend time with the paintings with a gallery guide. We then go into the studio space and do some art-making for our individual books.

"We are assisted by a professional artist from the gallery. We recruited participants from our Complex Needs and Recovery Services and we had so much interest that we had to turn some people down unfortunately."

The ‘Life Story' Book Art Project is for people who have experience of psychosis. It is an art making project which also focuses on mental health, recovery and wellbeing. In each session there is an opportunity to work with an artist to help create a ‘Life-Story' book for each group member to tell their own story using visual art.

The fascinating afternoon began with the group gathered around a beautiful painting called ‘The Nurture of Jupiter' by Nicolas Poussin, painted circa 1636-37. It depicted the Roman god Jupiter as a baby, being fed milk and honey. Everybody was encouraged to talk about what was happening in the work and how the infant Jupiter might have felt - having been abandoned and drinking milk from a goat.

But things really got interesting when the group moved on to the next picture ... ‘The Chaff-Cutter' painted sometime in the 17th century by David Teniers the Younger. This really got everybody going. Some thought there were only three people in this rural scene - there were four - one was slightly obscured. Others recognised that the rural ‘barn' was in fact a home (the giveaway was a chimney) and that there was a hidden pig in the work - not seen by everyone at first.

The gathering was asked by a member of the gallery staff, what belongings the people in the picture might have in their home and how many rooms it might have. The general consensus was one large room. A service user call Dominic, quite rightly said that beds of some kind would be important, another that a stove for cooking and warmth would be necessary.

Susannah and Kate are doing great work here. Making people think, interact and opening their minds. Wonderful.

Published on 7th September 2012