The Reclaim exhibitions at the current Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF), remind me of the fundamental question: what is art? and the answer: ‘Art is the deliberate act of creating’.

It’s not the product that results from the act, but the act of doing itself that is art. So an artist creates, and what he or she creates, is the art.

From a chocolate cake to a painting to a palace, we are surrounded by art. Yet, we, the ordinary viewers, are often reluctant or embarrassed to offer an opinion – we leave the interpretation, analysis and value of the art product to ‘those who know’. Often, the creativity in each of us is inhibited to the point we are no longer to able, encouraged or even allowed to experience the pure pleasure of self-expression in the simple act of creating.

How often do we hear, ‘I can’t do art’?

Yet, the therapeutic value of the artistic process has been identified as a primal need in us all – and it’s one which I have witnessed in the SMAHF exhibitions as transformational both in life and on a journey of recovery.

The diversity of subject, medium, expression, and technical abilities displayed at the various SMHAF venues are as eclectic as an art college degree show, and none the less valid. As with many forms of art, experiencing the product can be simultaneously mystifying, shocking, challenging, delightful and surprising, but with an open mind and eye an rewarding, edifying and inspirational experience.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts festival is one such experience.

My own response to the exhibits varied, perhaps conditioning and exposure to ’art’ creates an expectation. It is not what I expected. Some pieces leave me baffled, some delighted and some are surprisingly forceful in their social commentary. Pictured left, is Reclaiming Myself by Artist ‘B’. Inspired by wartime practice of covering art with lesser images to prevent discovery; analogising medication to covering of self and reclaiming  the old self from personality subduing medicines.

Some pieces I almost dismissed as rubbish, until I really looked at what was expressed – profound beyond technical correctness. Some simply did not reach me, but even then, the effort of viewing has left a lasting impression, promoting thought, and stimulating constructive and at times humorous discussion – and humour can diminish stigma, and normalise inclusive behaviours.

In Anne Dennise’s untitled piece (left), I found a curled up person hidden in the landscape…Perhaps that’s just me? Certainly though, the exhibition’s most important function, apart from giving voice to the artists, is the resultant broadening of the conversation about our individual and collective experiences of mental health and our attitudes toward it.

Visit and decide for yourself; think about the artists creative responses to their experiences of mental health in this year’s theme of “Reclaim”.

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival- SMHAF, incorporating Out of Sight Out of Mind – OOSOOM.

Until 29th October 2017

Summerhall, Newington and venues throughout the City.

Full programme and details at

Header Picture:  I’m drowning not waving: Artist Sarah Adams. Exploring the mixed messages of apparent calm and control – functioning whilst really drowning in a sea of anxiousness.”I’m Fine” resonated with me looking at those around me in the office and wondering. Does someone really want help? 


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