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A Tapestry of Tales: Investigating the Historical Geographies of Art Therapy and ‘Art Extraordinary’ in Scotland (C. 1900 - 2012)
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Funded by: British Academy, Leverhulme Trust
Main contact: Dr Cheryl McGeachan
Start date: 2014
End date: 2016
The impulse to create as a therapeutic tool is intimately intertwined with the histories of mental health care in Scotland, yet it remains a significantly under-investigated field of enquiry. This project, through engaging with the unique Art Extraordinary collection and associated archive assembled by pioneering Scottish art therapist Joyce Laing in the later part of the twentieth century, seeks to investigate a set of narratives revealed by the collection in order to illuminate the changing nature of mental health care in Scotland during this experimental period. In
particular this project investigates the historical geographies associated with three case-studies from the archive – patient/artist portraits from Montrose Asylum, The Ross Clinic in Aberdeen and The Special Unit at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
‘Art Extraordinary’ refers to visual art forms created by individuals who paint, sculpt or draw due to a compulsion to express an intense personal vision. Most of these artists have no formal art education or training and often exist on the margins of conventional society, held within the care of a variety of institutions and experiencing mental health difficulties of varying kinds. Exploring such a collection, through a historical-geographical framework, allows pathways into understanding the intimate connections between mind and body interactions of those experiencing mental ill-health, and the different attempts made through history to negotiate their place in society.