[237130, A3] Wk 10: Publishable Blog Post

This week, I worked to focus more on the social implications of the stigma of mental illness as a whole, as expressed by artists and art movements in the past decade. I felt that limiting my search to this period would allow me to see how artists in the global era choose to utilise the potential for mass media sharing. By analysing a variety of representations of this issue by other artists, I aimed to gain a clearer sense of direction for my project. Based on this research, I would be able to choose the most appropriate medium and tone to combat the issue of stigma against the mentally ill as perpetuate by the entertainment industry.

My research led me to the genre of ‘Outsider Art’ – a pan-disciplinary expression of struggles faces by minorities who are otherwise underrepresented in society in attempt to educate the wider public (Tischler). These marginalised groups include people of colour, the gay community, people afflicted with mental illness or disability, and so forth (Tischler). The purpose of outsider art is to educate, and change the perceptions of the marginalised by the wider public to facilitate their integration into society (Fullerton).

Through exploration of this genre, I came across 3 very different examples of artists who challenge negative perceptions of the mentally ill. Toby Allen is an artist working in digital media on an ongoing project entitled ‘Real Monsters’, which depict various mental illnesses as monsters, complete with descriptions of the monsters’ effects on human beings (Allen). This representation of mental illness promotes education about mental illness in a positive way, as the anthropomorphism of the illness allows the viewer to attach visual imagery to the effects of an unseen affliction. This combats the stigma that mental illness is not as severe as physical illness, because the symptoms are often invisible (Allen). The lack of menacing characteristics in the monsters also challenges the misconception that mental illness should be connoted with violence.

Another work of interest was the animation created by Lisa Buttery, Tom Slater and Sam Taylor which was created to tell the story of a sufferer of self-harm and suicidal ideation (Buttery). The use of stop-motion animation and simple visual language such as shapes and colour to distinguish characters and emotions allows the viewer to empathise with the speaker. Simplicity in visual imagery to tell stories allows the viewer to imagine themselves in the situation of the speaker, which creates more of an emotional response in an audience. The use of the first-person position of the speaker telling their experiences has a similar effect, by reminding the audience that real people experience these afflictions.

The final artist, Celeste Mountjoy – working under the pseudonym ‘filthyratbag’ – creates work in the outsider art genre tackling issues from mental illness, to body image and nudity, to alcoholism (Mountjoy). Her work takes the form of very simple line art and block colours, which complements the sarcastic tone of the dialogue of the depicted figures. The satirical nature of her work emphasises the absurdities in society’s views of these issues. This is effective in educating the audience because it ridicules social stigma, and not the viewer.

I wanted to adopt this sarcastic tone into my project, and explore how best this could be applied to my more specific topic of misrepresentations of mental illness in the entertainment industry. To better inform how to make the project take on an educational dimension, it is necessary to do more academic research into social stigma.

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