It is no secret that art moves us in mysterious ways. Below Cait Irwin, author of Monochrome Days: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager’s Experience With Depression, describes how art helped her cope with depression. The black and white image below was done by Cait at the age of 14, the same age she was diagnosed with major depression. Today Cait is an adult and a successful artist continuing to express her feelings through art. Check back later today for an excerpt from her book.
For as long as I can remember I have been completely captured by art. It seemed to hold on to me and pull thoughts and ideas and emotions from my mind and heart.
Many others have had experiences like mine with art, and everyone’s experience is unique. Art speaks to differently to everyone, but some works move almost all onlookers, and bring forth emotions and aspirations in the individual. These works of art have been deemed timeless and unshakable to the ever changing world.
When I was a child I remember looking at a coffee table book filled with the art of Vincent Van Gogh. I looked at every picture, tracing the lines with my finger and imagining that I could step inside the paintings.
As I grew older the way I looked at art changed. After experiencing a serious bout of depression, which brought out thoughts of suicide, Van Gogh’s art, to me, evolved into works of pure emotion that I digested completely with a strange familiarity.
I wanted to know more Van Gogh’s life since he profoundly moved me. As I learned about him I began to see connections and similarities. I studied other artists and I found that there was an undeniable thread networking a commonality through the art world. The common thread is honesty in art and creation because artists possess an absolute need to translate their perspective of the outside world.
I was hungry to seek out other artists, all kinds of artists, because these connections I felt reinforced my own path in life. I had always known I was going to be an artist, and learning about other artists’ life experiences gave me a source of strength and inspired me to stay true to my own path.
I was young I have been creating some form of art, and with each passing year I would teach myself a new medium to work with, and evolve my skills. But what I didn’t understand at the time was that my life experiences would always greatly affect my art.
As things happened in my life I began to produce works which reflected my feelings and ideas. When I was a teenager, art was the only thing I still wanted to do, even while my whole world was being torn apart by depression. I would draw pictures that illustrated my mind. These pictures, done in heavy charcoal, screamed out pain to the loved ones that looked at them. My mom never discouraged these drawings, because she knew that it was necessary for me to release those thoughts. And even though she hated to look at them, she was grateful that I was so aware of the state of my own spirit and had the ability to illustrate it so well.
In my relationship with my creative self, there have been very few times when I felt I couldn’t create. Art is totally integrated into my daily life and is as natural as breathing. In my experience, when I need to process something or communicate something, I will most likely do it through the act of creating art.
There is honesty when someone creates because it is purely an act of their own expression. When that honesty is recognized, it births a sense of empathy from one person to another. The image of the “Beast” in my first book Conquering the Beast Within, has reached countless numbers of people who feel that they can now picture depression. The simple act of drawing the Beast that I saw within myself, has given others the ability to make something unseen, like a mental illness, extremely tangible.
When I hear that others have been moved by my art work, I feel a wave of immense gratitude for possessing the ability to “ Speak through art.”
An inherent appreciation for the “honest” artist has grown stronger over time, and I am inspired myself to produce honest art that may capture the beholder.
Monochrome Days, part of a series of books by the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, is funded without using money from pharmaceutical companies. Here are some other great resources to check out:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Association of Suicidology
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- Bazelon Center For Mental Health Law
- Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association
- Families for Depression Awareness
- Jed Foundation
- NARSAD, The National Mental Health Research Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Association of Social Workers
- National Disability Rights Network
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Mental Health Association
- National Mental Health Information Center
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
- Suicide Prevention Action Network USA