First published: Fall 2016
Although there is an extensive body of literature on art therapy practice and theory in the clinical setting, there is much less written about the spontaneous creation of art by individuals who, through their own ingenuity, have used creativity as a form of self-therapy in relation to grieving over a loss, coping with traumatic events, confronting stressful situations or dealing with mental illness. Painful emotions and traumatic experiences sometimes cannot be communicated in words, but the creating of things can be a medium for their expression, an external manifestation of inner turmoil or overwhelming experiences, and may help clarify issues or restore a sense of self-worth.
To be clear in this context: creativity is not inevitably interwoven with suffering; tragedy and emotional pain are not prerequisites for artistic activity; and the creative outputs of the vast majority of individuals labelled “outsider artists”, “visionary artists”, “self-taught artists” and artists in general are not necessarily related to trauma or life-crisis. Although many of the individuals discussed in this study have used creativity as a way to cope with misfortune, they are not presented here as somehow representative of self-taught or “outsider” artists overall.
UFO: Art & Science, Future To Peace The Earth, Ionel Talpazan, 2003, poster paint, marker, pencil and ink on paper, 40 x 25 ins. / 101.6 x 63.5 cm, photo by James Wojcik
The potentially therapeutic features of art making are illustrated by the art of Ionel Talpazan (1955–2015), a refugee from Romania who lived in New York City. Talpazan created more than 1000 paintings, drawings and sculptures inspired by his ideas about flying saucers and life in outer space. He said that he “sacrificed his life to the UFO” and his dream was to share his ideas with NASA scientists; his ultimate goal was to reveal the unknown technologies and hidden meanings of flying saucers, with the hope of helping humanity.