How Art Saved My Life
Written by Guest Blogger: David Armitage
Art saved my life- this is a bit of an exaggeration, however, it is nonetheless true. Art is part of the equation that keeps me going on this planet. My favourite artist is Vincent Van Gogh, not just for his vivid paintings, but because he struggled in his life with mental illness, and eventually ended up taking his own life. His journey with depression and creating artwork parallels my own journey with depression
“In sorrow, yet ever joyful” is a phrase from one of Van Gogh’s favourite verses from the Bible (2 Corinthians 6:10) This became his motto, and as I identified with Van Gogh’s’s struggles and practiced my own art style, I learned to relate to this verse, too.
Ten years ago was my last serious suicide attempt. For over twenty years I have struggled with depression; however, my faith has helped me even in the darkest of times. Sorrow was my day, but being joyful is my context . After my last serious suicide attempt, I decided that I would do anything to survive and live . This is how art saved my life.
Half of my paintings are about my condition and understanding myself and my place in this world. Religious imagery is featured strongly in my artwork, such as Winston Churchill’s black dog making a regular appearance . The other half of my artwork contains- the usual still life and scenery. I am trying to learn the art of portraiture, as to capture someone’s soul in a painting is a rare skill; in my self-portrait, I feel I have communicated this.
This is what art for the depressed is: to communicate what words fail to. It is music for the eyes.
The first piece I painted is me lying naked in the street with a cross protruding out of my back. Jesus is there, half dead and half resurrected. This painting is me identifying with the Passion of Jesus and hoping that I do have life despite my depression . Otherwise, what is the point? This painting has provoked the widest range of reactions, because some see it as negative and meaning death. Others see my faith as a futile expression. Even still others think I have a Messiah Complex. But as for me, I have expressed something deep in this painting, which written or spoken words could not convey.
“Apologies Vincent” is a painting which identifies with Vincent Van Gogh. This painting is a simple still-life of a bunch of sunflowers. When I have showed this to people, their reactions were encouraging and gave me hope that art is a gift from God, and I should continue to create it
Churchill’s black dog appears for the first time in this next piece. When struggling with depression, I locked my emotions of my pain deep away in a chest and buried it internally. This is how the chest controlled my depression-and me. I do not waste supplies, so the colours around the edge are me using up paint. However, the colors do help to focus on the center of the painting . I deliberately chose to paint a Doberman because depression is mentally painful, as painful as being hurt by a Doberman.
Next is my piece “Black Dog and the Girl” I was inspired by a poem a friend of mine wrote, and is my only piece that has been publically exhibited. Shakespeare wrote that all the world is a stage, so I wanted that quote to be felt in this painting. And as for the hand? The hand is up to the audience to perceive; it could even be the hand of God.
The self-portrait I painted is very personal and one which I am proud of. I wanted to show the physical, mental, and spiritual parts of myself. The stuff inside the skeleton is what makes me, me. The falling family photos are the ones I have been through and the rubbish bin are the tools of my suicide attempt. Then there are some animals, which have deeply personal meanings. Lastly, no matter what, Jesus has been with me in all of my life, which is why he is present in the painting. Don’t worry, there are questions I need to ask him, but that is what faith is: trusting when all else fails.
My final painting is a landscape of a local park. I have included this as I appreciate life and the wonder of creation. Creation brought me out of my solitude and into the world. Enjoying the outdoors is great for my mental health; it gets me out of the house and interacting with people on my own terms.
Children love to see artists at work, and it cheers me when I show them my artwork and they automatically think I am in the same league as Van Gogh. It also excites them about art and often parents are inspired to have a family art session when they all return home.
As far as showing my work to the general public, all have been encouraging. People stop by for a chat and tell me their stories, and this has shown me that I am not alone in this world. We all are struggling with something.
So in my sorrow, I can look for joy in art and see that this is not just a personal journey, but a universal one. Maybe this is why Vincent Van Gogh is so popular: his brilliant work displayed his struggle for meaning within this life. Could art be the key to communication? Words are limited in what they can say, but a painting has as many meanings as viewers. Amidst sorrow, I have found in art one of the keys to finding joy.