Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Art from Dreams by Susan Levin


Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage, and Poetry
By Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey inCollage, Assemblage, and Poetry is a new book released in September 2014 that covers one woman’s experience in processing her dreams through artwork and poetry.  Susan Levin is an artist from Los Angeles, and as she wondered what her dreams meant and went through Jungian analysis, she decided to further explore her dreams by creating large pieces of found object sculpture, collage, and assemblage pieces as themes began to arise. 

After a very brief introduction and foreward to the book, the first section is entitled “My Jungian Dreams,” and included pictures of her artwork from this process, and all are paired with poems that she later wrote to go with the dream/artwork.  Her titles invoke the images of Jungian archetypes, such as mother, fate, home, mandalas, and even a dream including Picasso.  Levin’s poetry is short and to the point, and gives, to some extent, illumination to the artwork.  Certain artworks are more self-explanatory than other pieces, and Levin uses a variety of materials to make up her sculptures and collages, oftentimes in a shadowbox style but in others, she is more whimsical using items such as rusted saws or wood palettes. 

Part Two of the book is entitled “Nocturnes,” and included artwork about her continuing dreams.  However, there is no poetry associated with these works of art, and there is no particular Jungian association or analysis with these, though more familiar images such as mandalas or archetypal images appear.  Levin has titled them, given the dimensions and materials, but no other information is written in the second section.  In her artwork throughout the book, she often uses large found objects, things that might be found in an antique store or flea market, or even perhaps just thrown out for trash.  However, she repurposes them in often very orderly and compositionally pleasing arrangements. 

Dreams and artwork are both very personal things, and the poetry included in the book adds a depth to both for the viewer to take in and decipher and interpret as they see things through their own lens.  The book is nicely bound, and has an aesthetically pleasing layout of the beautiful photographs of Levin’s artwork.  However, as an art therapist who is trained to study and to interpret art (to a certain degree), I would have been very interested to hear Levin’s thoughts on her own work.  The only text throughout the book is in the introduction and foreword, and the titles and information for the artwork.  It is a book merely for viewing and is somewhat open-ended as to what each reader/viewer would take away from the visuals.  Even if Levin did not feel comfortable getting into any details about her dreams and the artwork and poetry related to them, which I would find entirely understandable, I would still have been interested in reading about her process in creating them, what it was like for her as she created her pieces, and even what she felt after she finished.  Insights that she may have gained would have been intriguing for me to hear about, to know how the art helped illuminate the concepts, archetypes, ideas, and symbols that she was consciously or unconsciously representing. 

Overall, I found the book intriguing in its concept and beautifully presented.  However, being a therapist as well as an artist, I felt wanting more to learn beyond the artwork, which was left only in the view of the beholder.  Though I have training in interpreting certain trends in artwork, one of the emphases I put in my work with my clients is that first and foremost I learn about it from the creator before I rely on my interpretive impressions, and so I found myself looking for this aspect as well in this book so that I could learn what the art meant to Levin herself.  For instance, the mandalas that she included I could analyze through the Great Round of Mandala Theory from Joan Kellogg to give myself a better grasp on what Levin was capturing in her art, but I also would have loved to hear her thoughts and meanings behind it as well.  The art’s connection to Jungian theory could be inferred to certain extent, but further exploration or explanation could be more enlightening to those who are interested in discovering more for themselves and seeing someone else’s journey that they took the time to document both in art and in print. 

Regardless, I hope that this book can inspire others to pursue art as a means for self-exploration and self-expression, whether it is for dream analysis or other pursuit such as to express feelings, introspection, or inner processing.  Levin’s example of taking the time to go beyond Jungian analysis alone into her talent and motivation to create art for a greater understanding can be a source of inspiration to would-be artists around the world.

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Autistic girl's paintings attract attention

Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings

by Roisin O'Connor

A five-year-old girl with autism has garnered praise across Europe, Asia and America for her astonishing artwork.  Iris Grace, who lives with her family in Leicestershire, began painting last year, and has already been praised by buyers, collectors and galleries for her work's intense colour, immediacy, and open composition.  Her paintings are sold to private art collectors in the UK and around the world for thousands of pounds each, with all profits going towards art materials and therapy.  Arabella Carter-Johnson, Iris’s mother, said that Iris loves being outside and that she can see “so much of nature in her paintings."

Iris with her cat Thula 

“She will watch water, trees, wind, leaves, flowers, birds, clouds… she is so interested in movement and how it changes things.” She added that Iris is “very musical” and has been since she was a baby.  “It was the one thing that always calmed her,” she said. “Iris is particularly into classical music at the moment and knows all of the orchestra instruments. She adores the violin.” Iris’s cat Thula is another source of inspiration, and features regularly in her work, such as her painting ‘Raining Cats’.

'Raining Cats' by Iris Grace  
'Raining Cats' by Iris Grace  

“There have been a lot of references to Monet because of the Impressionistic style. We have had many artists, dealers and galleries contact us who are very complimentary about her work which is lovely,” Iris's mother said. “For us though the joy that Iris gets from creating her pieces is the highlight, how it changes her mood, how happy it makes her.” Due to a lack of awareness, people with autism and their friends, family and carers often struggle to explain just how strong an impact it can have on a person’s life. Iris's mother said that her daughter had great success with play therapy, music therapy, and now a new form of speech therapy which uses video, created by a company called Gemiini “By following Iris’s interests, her ‘spark’, I have been able to engage her in many things,’ Iris's mother said.  "We have started our own activity club that supports children with autism, and run that every Saturday morning."

Iris at work 
Iris at work  

Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have shared Iris’s work on social media, while three-time BAFTA award winner Olivia Colman showed her support by reading a poem for a video about Iris. Several high-profile figures are active in raising awareness of autism, including actor Daniel Radcliffe, who is a patron for the Autism Research Trust.  “I am sure his [Ashton Kutcher’s] post has had a huge impact, said Iris's mother. "Our society now is so interested in what celebrities say or do that any comments from them will undoubtedly raise awareness."

You can learn more about Iris's work on her website


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A New Theory About Schizophrenia

Here is an interesting article that shows studies that are determining that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of different genetic factors, and is actually eight different genetic disorders that work together - in various combinations thereof - to create the differing presentations of schizophrenia (i.e., positive and/or negative symptoms).

  
Mark Strozier/Getty

BREAKTHROUGH

09.16.14

Schizophrenia Isn’t One Disorder but Eight


In perhaps the most important study in schizophrenia’s history, researchers have identified that it is not a single inherited disorder as previously believed, but rather eight separate genetic disorders.
Schizophrenia is perhaps the most misunderstood mental illness, but a research team at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has just come one step closer to understanding how it works.

After analyzing the DNA of over 4,000 patients with schizophrenia, the investigators of the study have determined that schizophrenia is not a single inherited disorder as previously believed, but rather eight separate genetic disorders that can combine into “clusters” which carry significant risks for schizophrenia.

As senior investigator Dr. C. Robert Cloninger notes, “[genes] don’t work by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.” Rather than focusing on the individual genes that have been associated with schizophrenia, this team looked instead at the interactions between genes in order to isolate the causes of the illness.

In an audio interview, Cloninger observes that this multi-faceted etiology of schizophrenia matches the plurality and complexity of its symptoms: “There isn’t just this one kind of schizophrenia but actually several different syndromes where some people have positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions [and] others have negative symptoms where they’re not able to think logically and these different syndromes are associated with different groups of genes.” Instead of looking for one gene that could account for all of the possible configurations of schizophrenic symptoms, Cloninger and his colleagues looked at the way in which different configurations of genetic variations produce different symptoms in individual patients.

Washington University’s new research could be the most important breakthrough in schizophrenia research since the illness was first diagnosed. Their findings hint toward new treatment possibilities for an illness whose symptoms are almost as difficult to alleviate as they are to understand. And the clarity of their discovery could finally put the persistent cultural myths surrounding schizophrenia to rest and help the public better understand this severe mental illness.

Early treatments for schizophrenia were as ineffective as they were dangerous. As Rachel Whitehead of Rethink Mental Illness writes for the Guardian, early 20th-century physicians treated schizophrenic patients with injections of sulfur and oil. In the 1930s and ’40s, physicians struggled to find a more tenable treatment. As an article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry notes, Swiss psychiatrists attempted to treat schizophrenia by inducing sleep for long periods of time, often resulting in pneumonia and death. Other psychiatrists attempted to treat schizophrenia with carbon dioxide gas and artificially-induced comas. In the 1950s, the first antipsychotic drug was invented and treatment for schizophrenia has revolved around the use of pharmaceutical drugs ever since.
“[Genes] don’t work by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.”
Currently, schizophrenic patients are treated with a combination of antipsychotic medications (e.g. Clozapine) and therapeutic treatment, most notably cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). While schizophrenia is much more treatable now than it was a century ago, antipsychotic medications still carry significant side effects. Clozapine, for instance, can lower a patient’s white blood cell count to dangerous levels, substantially reducing the body’s ability to fight infection. And as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes, Clozapine is “hard on the body and causes a risk of diabetes, weight gain, myocarditis, and other medical concerns that need to be planned for.”

Potentially serious side effects aside, recovery from schizophrenia can take years of treatment. One study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that “the overall rate of recovery during the early years of the illness is low,” with under 14 percent of subjects maintaining “full recovery criteria for 2 years or longer.” Another study, in the British Journal of Psychiatry, examined long-term outcomes, finding that only 16 percent of people with “early unremitting cases” of schizophrenia could recover in the later years of the illness. Both studies concur that the symptoms of schizophrenia are eminently treatable with around half of schizophrenic patients finding substantive relief from their symptoms, but “full recovery” remains an elusive and arduous task. Many people with schizophrenia will die from suicide and unnatural causes before they can complete or even receive treatment. As one review article in the Archives of General Psychiatry notes, nearly 5 percent of people with schizophrenia will die by suicide alone.

After a century of ineffective treatments, risky medications, and stalled genetic research, the new findings from Washington University could be an important step forward in treating schizophrenia. For one, the treatment of schizophrenia could be further individuated to match each individual patient’s needs. By sorting the patients in their study by their symptomatology, the research team at Washington University could identify which “clusters of genetic variations” led to which symptoms. As Dr. Igor Zwir notes in the Washington University press release, “it soon may be possible to target treatments to specific pathways that cause problems.” And as research into gene therapy for schizophrenia continues, Washington University’s findings will give researchers new pathways to pursue to target symptoms of schizophrenia. In the future, the Washington University study may mark the tipping point in the successful treatment of schizophrenic patients.

In addition to potentially revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, this discovery could finally put to rest longstanding rumors about the causes of schizophrenia. Because past researchers typically looked for a single gene that caused schizophrenia, scientists knew that the illness was inherited but struggled to understand what other imbricating factors could account for it. The National Institute of Mental Health, for instance, observes that having a relative with schizophrenia significantly increases its risk but leaves plenty of room open for the influence of “environmental factors” such as malnutrition.

The Johns Hopkins Health Library, too, notes “many factors—genetic, behavioral, and environmental—play a role in the development of this mental health condition.” While environmental factors certainly play a role in the development of any genetic disorder—schizophrenia included—the continued mystery of schizophrenia’s genetic origins has perhaps left too much room open for rampant speculation about the sort of environmental factors that cause the illness.

Some still believe the mid-20th-century rumors that schizophrenia is caused by bad parenting, alcohol abuse, or other forms of trauma, so much so that many resources on schizophrenia still find it necessary to explicitly refute these myths. NAMI notes that 6 percent of people still believe that “people diagnosed with schizophrenia did something to cause their condition.” These myths about the causation of schizophrenia stigmatize it, allowing the public to willfully misunderstand it by blaming it instead on the families who suffer the most from its symptoms. Despite the fact that millions of people and approximately 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, misinformation about the illness promotes the belief that schizophrenia is the result of some sort of moral failing and not genetic variation.
Despite the fact that millions of people and approximately 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, misinformation about the illness promotes the belief that schizophrenia is the result of some sort of moral failing and not genetic variation.
And the ignorance that continues to surround schizophrenia actively compounds its treatment on a cultural level. As NAMI notes in a report on the perception of schizophrenia, the “lack of knowledge” surrounding schizophrenia constitutes a “public health crisis” inasmuch as investment in treatment options requires widespread public awareness about the disorder. Only a quarter of Americans feel as if they are familiar with schizophrenia, with only Lou Gehrig’s disease and multiple sclerosis ranking lower on the scale. A substantial percentage of Americans, too, still fear people with schizophrenia at work or in their personal lives even if they are undergoing treatment. NAMI believes that this “knowledge gap” must be closed to promote a culture in which people view schizophrenia as a treatable illness. If more people could recognize schizophrenic symptoms and openly care for those who suffer with schizophrenia, more people with the illness might seek treatment during the critical early stages.

The new research from Washington University could be influential in closing this knowledge gap, as it seems to be the most definitive information about the origins of schizophrenia uncovered so far. In a country where six times as many people believe false rumors about schizophrenia as suffer from it, the conclusive discovery of the genetic clusters that contribute to schizophrenia should finally start to bury past misconceptions about the illness. In addition to possibly transforming future approaches to the treatment of schizophrenia, Washington University’s recent findings could also finally give a misinformed public the clarity it needs to promote widespread understanding of this devastating mental illness.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cancer survivor uses art to process his treatment

Ray Paul shows his collection, My Sarcoma, an exhibit on display at Moffitt Cancer Center's Healing Arts Gallery. The paintings show his own cancer cells. (Photo: Melissa Eichman, staff)

Cancer patient's art shows raging battle, beauty of hope


By Melissa Eichman, Reporter


Fifty-one-year-old Ray Paul is passionate about art.  "Playing with the paint, I love color, I love working with details, too and expressing myself and forgetting all the outside world while I’m painting," he said.

An artist since first grade, Paul has been painting for decades. "Abstract, expressionism mixed with some surrealism and probably pop art with the bright and bold colors," said Paul.  Bold colors were put to the canvas differently after a cancer diagnosis in 2011. Paul turned to art to help him get through treatment.

"I look at it as kind of attacking the cancer because it’s right there in front of me and I’m able to see it and go at it," said Paul.  Paul’s collection, “My Sarcoma,” tells of his cancer journey through paintings, his body the canvas.  "We were able to get images of my tumor cancer cells and have them printed onto canvas,” said Paul. “And I was able to use that as a substrate to paint over the top of."

The artist says painting helped him heal through four tumors in three years.  "It’s definitely a refuge," Paul said. "It’s almost like a Zen kind of thing, you forget about the cancer, you forget about all the trials and tribulations and you can lose yourself in the work."

The collection is currently on display at Moffitt Cancer Center’s Healing Arts Gallery.  "I’m hoping this gives them a chance to stop, reflect and maybe lose themselves in the color and the paint and maybe to have a smile,” said Paul. “Maybe make their day a little brighter."

Paul, who is now cancer-free, hopes his pieces show patients, their families, doctors and staff at Moffitt both the raging battle and the beauty of hope.

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