Art and Schizophrenia Follow-Up

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Marvin’s recent piece and the comments that followed got me thinking about art and schizophrenia. There is a brief period in child development between the time a child can hold and manipulate a pencil or brush to make marks on paper and the time they begin to think and speak in symbolic language. That is the period, I think, Picasso was referring to when he spoke of retaining the gifts of a child to draw and paint as a child. For it is in that period that a child draws, perhaps with varying degrees of skill, what he or she sees or perceives at the moment, rather than what they expect to see.

With the development of symbolic language we begin to see what we expect to see and only in the amount of detail that we need. And the child then begins to draw not what is actually before their eyes but symbols. Hence a tree becomes a green popsicle on a stick, the sun a yellow orb in the sky with yellow rays, a house becomes a box with peaked roof, and humans become stick figures.

Generally we adults see what we expect to see but we can be persuaded to take a second look by others, by circumstances, by choice. In a delusional state the afflicted person also sees what they expect to see and they perceive what they see in a manner that supports their delusion. It is also impossible to persuade them to take a second look for to do so would shatter a conviction.

And that may be where the making of art and art therapy comes in. It offers the troubled, afflicted, delusional person a non threatening place to go back, back before symbolic thinking developed, and learn to see again.

And of course it also offers that which I think every artist pursues, and that is the possibility of reliving the moment when mother once took your childhood scribble in hand and exclaimed, “This is wonderful. My very own little Picasso. This is going right on the refrigerator door.”

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