Art policies should support therapy

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Art policies should support therapy


Art brut means “raw and unrefined art” in French, and French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) first used the concept to recognize paintings of the mentally handicapped as artwork. These pieces show primitive, novice, provocative, creative, isolated and pure characteristics. Vincent van Gogh, who cut off his own ear and killed himself, is the most notable of the artists who suffered from mental illness.

Modern science is not enough to explain human psychology. Films like “Rain Man” and “Mercury Rising” feature people with autism demonstrating exceptional ability in specific areas, a condition called savant syndrome.

In the United States, France and Japan, museums specifically for Art Brut have been established, thanks to wide appreciation and understanding of the art. Most of all, they are relatively unbiased toward people suffering from mental illnesses. But in Korea, Art Brut is still in a primary stage. Kim Tong-won, a social work professor at Sungkyunkwan University, has established a nonprofit organization, Korean Art Brut, to pioneer the field.

Korean Art Brut has four resident painters, who have schizophrenia, intellectual disabilities and visual impairment. They receive about 1.2 million won ($1,081) monthly in return for their paintings.

Kim says, “There are Art Brut auctions in other countries, but it is not easy to operate the organization with such little recognition and support in Korea.”

Lately, Kim has another concern. One of the organization’s resident artists who had received praise from Japanese Art Brut specialists is no longer painting. “Her conditions seem to have improved as she drew. She had suffered from serious schizophrenia, but she hasn’t painted for some time now. Instead, she is into an awareness movement to improve perception and understanding of the disabled. To me, she seems quite normal.” Thanks to the creative exploration into her mind, she rediscovered her identity and returned to life as normal. While a doctor needs to confirm her improvement, art certainly treated her condition. “Of course, it’s a loss in terms of art. But isn’t it wonderful for her?”

The positive impacts of art on physical and psychological disabilities have been proved through much research. We need to have broader understanding and attention for Art Brut.

Americans for the Arts announced 10 reasons to support the arts, and one of them is that arts have “healing benefits to patients - shorter hospital stays, better pain management and less medication.” Nearly half of America’s health care institutions provide arts programming for patients, families and staff. Korea’s arts promotion policy should consider support for art as therapy.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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