The Art of Feeling Better

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 15:07

For many people, art makes it that little bit easier to be human. A great artwork can share an extraordinary idea or tell us that even when we suffer we are not alone. 

In 2016, for the first time, Southbank Centre presents Changing Minds festival, a weekend of talks and creativity inspired by mental health and the arts. While mental health issues can be difficult to talk about, they are a part of life for many of us. At Southbank Centre, we believe that art can offer everyone a way to understand – and share – both the mind’s darkest corners and it’s most extraordinary flights of fancy. 

As we launch the festival, we asked some of the artists and thinkers taking part to give us their thoughts about the art of feeling better. 

Find out more about Changing Minds

February
Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah, author

Which artwork would you recommend to those in need of comfort?

I don’t know what it is about Turner but I find all his work soothing and calming. I also love the sheer zaniness and incongruity of Dali’s melting clocks in ‘The Persistence of Memory’; they never fail to make me smile. I would also recommend a trio of Zimbabwean painters – Masimba Hwati, Misheck Masamvu and Gareth Nyandoro – who use humour and vibrant colour to great effect in their work.  

What activities make you feel better?

Any activity related to physical self-care, like exercise, particularly yoga, spinning, then a good, long sauna. It also helps to be part of a crowd that is enjoying the same thing, I particularly love going to classical music conerts, to the theatre or to movies. It helps immensely if I can feel that I am part of something larger than myself and that makes me feel connected to others.

 

February
Stuart Semple

Stuart Semple, visual artist

Which artwork has inspired you in times of difficulty or sadness?

There are several. Millet’s ‘The Angelus’ and Hockney’s ‘Bigger Splash’ in the Tate, I love looking at that. 

Where is the most soothing place to go in London?

It used to be the Rothko Room at the old Tate but sadly that’s no more so I’d say the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. 

Which artists have inspired you by overcoming difficulty to create great work?

Van Gogh really. His works are so full of joy and he was a man so full of despair. 

February

Cheryl Martin, theatre director, writer, poet and jazz singer

Which artwork would you recommend to those in need of comfort?

I love the Matisse cut-outs, especially the huge later works like ‘The Parakeet and The Mermaid’. I find it exhilarating, like sitting by the sea. I think about how when his doctors gave him up for dead, Matisse found a new way to create. Such vivid, insistent life. 

Which artwork has inspired you in times of difficulty or sadness?

This is another Matisse, from his book Jazz, called ‘Icarus’.  He did two of Icarus, one of Icarus falling, with his heart like a flame, on fire.  This one, from what I read in Jazz, might be Icarus flying.  Not falling, flying, in joy.  At least that’s how I decide to see it – I feel like this sometimes when I sing.  

February

Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and comedian

What activities make you feel better?

Writing. Always writing. Whether a single tweet or a book chapter, it always makes me feel better, if somewhat drained. Turning the jumble in my head into something that has an independent existence for others to enjoy (or not) is always enjoyable for me. 

Which artwork would you recommend to those in need of comfort?

I always come back to Salvador Dali’s ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening’. It’s an excellent painting in its own right, but I can never stop thinking ‘What the hell was going on in this guy’s head? Must have been terrifying in there’.

February
Sabrina Mahfouz

Sabrina Mahfouz, poet and playwright

Which artists have inspired you by overcoming difficulty to create great work?

I facilitate lots of creative writing workshops with a huge range of people who have overcome great difficulties and are still facing situations that nobody should have to experience. It is their work, their motivation to find some peace and clarity through words, which inspire me daily. 

Which wise words comfort you when times are tough?

It’s a well known saying, but ‘every success is the result of a thousand failures’ is something I find comforting for both the personal and professional, everyday and epic things in life.

February
Brick

Brick, cartoonist 

Where is the most soothing place to go in London?

Epping Forest.

Which artwork would you recommend to those in need of comfort?

Mark Rothko’s ‘Rust & Blue (no. 61)’. It soothes like no other.

Which artwork has inspired you in times of difficulty or sadness?

Akira Kurosawa’s film Dodesukaden.

February
Brigitte Aphrodite

Brigitte Aphrodite, poet, musician and theatre maker

Which artists have inspired you by overcoming difficulty to create great work? 

Giles Duley is a fantastic documentary photographer. In 2011 he was working in Afghanistan where he stepped on an explosive device. He survived, but as a result of the explosion he became a triple amputee. He still takes incredible photographs around the world shedding light on stories that need to be told.

Which wise words comfort you when times are tough?

Kindness in any form is what comforts me when things are really tough... Words along with music are my passion but my indulgence into these art forms come when I feel stronger, not when I am in the belly of the Black Dog. This is why people shouldn’t really worry about saying the wrong thing when someone is going through a tough time.

Which artwork would you recommend to those in need of comfort? 

Personally I like googling Isabella Blow’s hats and Grayson Perry’s vases and outfits.

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