By Marvin Ross
Drawbridge, a book by Joan Boxall, about her travels in art with her brother with schizophrenia is a difficult one for me to review. Not because the book is bad which it is not and I do recommend it but because of my own problems with art and art therapy.
I am artistically challenged and can barely draw a stick figure. Art classes which were mandatory when I was in elementary school were torture for me so it is difficult to comprehend the enjoyment and benefit people get from it. David Dawson and I did a documentary on an art program for people with mental illness called the Brush, The Pen and Recovery and I did see the value that the participants derived from their participation.
The Home on the Hill program in Richmond Hill, Ontario does have an art program as well and I did attend a function where the art therapist explained the benefits but it was all over my head.
For those interested in the benefits of an art program, then I highly recommend this book. Written by Joan Boxall, a British Columbia based retired teacher, the book relates how she reconnected to her brother Stephen who had schizophrenia and developed a deep connection with him. As the book blurb states “Joan meets him (Steve) at the Art Studios in Vancouver, where he takes part in art classes for individuals with a mental illness in a safe, supportive environment. This marks the beginning of a remarkable journey into the healing power of art.”
Steve did attend art school in Vancouver in the 1960’s and has considerable talent evident from the drawings included in the book.
Explaining the role of art, Joan quotes from Picasso via Matisse that “painting is a blind man’s profession. He paints not what he sees but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.” And attending the classes at the art studio have resulted in Steve relearning how to focus and make good use of his time.
As the time the two siblings spend together and Steve becomes more involved with the art and the talent he left behind during his travels with psychosis, Joan comments that Steve is becoming unstuck and that he obsesses less and is lighter.
Soon, Steve’s work is displayed at the Art Studio and he has his first show called Dancing on the Interface. Of his 57 paintings on display, six sell along with cards of his images. Later, his paintings are accepted in the Art Rental Program at the North Vancouver Community Arts Council (now called North Van Arts). More paintings sell and his art begins to be displayed at some coffee houses in Vancouver.
Without wishing to give away too much of the book, let me just say that there is now a bursary given every spring to a student at the Emily Carr University in Art and Design in Vancouver to students coping with significant mental health challenges.
Aside from art, the book is a revealing look into the role that siblings can play in the support and help for those with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. It is often not an easy role but in this case it was aided by their mutual participation in art classes (and bocce ball as well.)
It also made me a bit jealous of Vancouver in that the community supported the art program and people bought or borrowed the paintings. We have not found that in our own community of Hamilton, Ontario. I did manage to get our local hospital with responsibility for mental health care to put on a premier for our documentary which they used for fund raising. One of the esteemed guests at that opening is a major donor to the hospital and now to their mental health services.
But when David Dawson held an art show for the artists involved in the film at his art gallery when we did the film, I do not believe that one painting sold. And they were good pieces of work.
Either last year or early this year, David held another showing for some very talented artists with serious mental illnesses and again I do not believe anything sold. For that, I notified the VP of mental health services at the hospital about the show and suggested they might like to obtain art works from talented patients for the drab, monochromatic institutionalized depressing walls of the hospital. No reply.
So kudos to Vancouver for the support they give.
DrawBridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia, by Joan Boxall (Author), Stephen A. Corcoran (Illustrator) ISBN-13: 978-1773860022 and available