The Difference a Decade Makes: Art, Aging, and Mental Illness


For a good while now I’ve believed not only that bipolar disorder gave me the unexpected gift of creativity, but also that this very creativity became my way through and out of the illness itself—despite the ironic fact that the healthy “me” seems less creative than the symptomatic one.

I’ve posted a significant number of poems, paintings, and drawings on my blog and have had readers suggest I organize an exhibit of my work.  Today, however, I thought I’d share a newspaper review of an exhibit I did in 2001.

First some background—

I was hospitalized in March of 2000 at Eastern State—a psychiatric facility here in Lexington, Kentucky—a hospital whose actual treatment may, in fact,  be better than its poor reputation would have us believe.  It was not an entirely bad place.

In fact, something rather good came out of the experience for me, as an occupational therapist noticed the drawings I was doing and recommended that upon discharge I contact an organization in Lexington called Minds Wide Open—a small downtown studio and day treatment program that took me under its creative wing and showed me how to submit an exhibit proposal and how to apply for a grant from the state arts’ council.  I did both of these—ultimately getting an exhibit opportunity at the Carnegie Center and gaining a grant to defray the exhibit’s matting and framing costs.

I had shown my work twice on a small-scale when I lived in Dallas, but nothing that matched the size and scope of an exhibit that opened at a reasonably well-known gallery on the evening of a Gallery Hop in downtown Lexington.  Gallery Hops in our town happen one Friday night every two months from late spring through early fall and focus the city’s attention on approximately 30 participating galleries that open new exhibits that night and host a wine and cheese event from 5 till 7 pm.  Art lovers roam downtown streets not only sipping and snacking, but also enjoying the work of artists the galleries show off during the evening.

So I got an exhibit on a Gallery Hop evening in June 2001, and had my work featured two days later in the Sunday paper’s weekly art review.  Unfortunately, no art sold during that exhibit, likely because I was still too sick at the time to interact successfully with Gallery Hop attendees, and the review in the paper was not necessarily glowing, a reality that I remember devastating me at the time. 

examining my work just before the opening

The artist statement I used at the time–the one reviewer David Minton refers to–appears below:

 The article follows in three pieces:

(click image to enlarge)

  The next part of the review refers to a small drawing called “Eclipse:”

(click image to enlarge)

Unfortunately, the negative tone of this review proved more than my mind could handle at the time.  I felt mocked and belittled by what I thought at the time was Minton’s implication that my work had less to offer than Gohde’s because mine was that of an unsophisticated and self-taught artist. 

Now, a decade later, I read the review differently and feel empathy for the “Kathy” of 10 years ago who unnecessarily considered this review a form of public humiliation and has not exhibited seriously in Lexington since, apart from one small show done at my partner Sara’s urging.

Perhaps, it’s time to change all of that.  It’s amazing the difference a decade makes.

27 thoughts on “The Difference a Decade Makes: Art, Aging, and Mental Illness

    • Not “celebrated,” I’m afraid. This reviewer didn’t think much of my work, but, hell, I know a lot more about him as a reviewer, as well, now–so I think there may be more going on in this piece than meets the eye. I’m looking forward to your visit in July!

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  1. I was thinking, as I was reading the review, how it says a lot of good things. I hate reviews and articles about me and my work because I often cannot read past any small negative to focus on the immense positives. It seems to me that your brain, which was still raw from your experience, did the same thing. I’m glad that you can read this review now and see the difference.
    Every piece you create blows me away Kathy. I hope you put together another showing. I am sure it will be glorious!

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    • You have said it exactly right, Lisa. I too focus on the tiny negative and overlook the other. It’s kind of sick the way I do this over and over. Maybe now I just care less what people think. I still care tons, don’t get me wrong. But negatives no longer destroy me. They just bug the crap out of me! Have a great day, my friend——————

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  2. I think Eclipse is beautiful. I don’t know anything about art, just that I like it or I don’t. I think a LOT of people are the same way, they either like it or they don’t. When I read the reviews I can’t even figure out what they are talking about. When you said “I sought nonverbal means to articulate the challenges I faced” – that makes sense. I ‘get’ that. I sincerely hope you take comfort in the fact that YOU enjoy your own artwork. And taking the step to display it for the public – that took some serious courage. Good for you!

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    • Yes, you are so right. I guess it did take guts. I hadn’t considered that possibility–that’s good to think about! I’m so glad you enjoyed Eclipse. It is one of my personal favorites, I think–but I’m like you–I don’t know why I like it, really. I just do.

      I’m so pleased you stopped by and even took the time to comment. Thank you! I’d love you to come back again————–

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  3. Perspective is an odd thing, as I didn’t read the review as negative — not a rave, either, but definitely not negative. I liked the piece of art shown, and your statement was both moving and powerful.

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    • Yes, I don’t see it as entirely negative now either–not great–but not terrible either. But, gosh, I was mortified at the time. I think I must have expected a more positive response. I’m glad my artist statement spoke to you!!!!! That’s cool—————Hope you have a great day————————-

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  4. Kathy, I’m with your other commenters. It’s a shame the reviewer dismissed your work at first and even said so in print. But it sounds like he went back through your your pieces and viewed them with a different perspective, and saw content and depth and promise. Maturity in art is fine. But ultimately, isn’t it the viewer’s visceral response that gives it value? He admitted your works touched something in him. That shows that you made contact in a positive way.

    Here’s to future successful showings with glowing reviews!

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    • I guess the thing that’s strange to me is that he chose to review my stuff out of all the artists’ work that was exhibited acrosss town that night. Surely there were 100 artists or so whose work opened, when you think of there being maybe 30 galleries, many with groups exhibits. And I was a total unknown–total unknown, so something caused him to focus the week’s review on my stuff. That actually is just now occurring to me————— Thanks for reading, Maura!

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  5. I think I’ve said this before. It takes tremendous courage to exhibit one’s artwork. Hell, I never even put my paintings on the wall until Then Husband dug them out of the closet. You are gifted. Your work clearly speaks to people. The rest is immaterial. And yes, the fact that the reviewer chose your work means he actually SAW it, as opposed to it going by his eyes in a blur, which I’m sure a lot of other work does. That speaks to the power of the work.

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    • Cool, Renee–I didn’t know you painted–or if I did, I’d forgotten. I’m glad you think my work is powerful! Somehow, it think it is too, or at least meaningful, maybe. Thanks for reading—————

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  6. I took a positive vibe from that article, but I understand (too much, unfortunately) how easy it is to expect the critique and spot the negative when viewing your own work. Glad you re-read this with fresh eyes, and I hope you see what we all do, Kathy, the brilliant artist!

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  7. I’m with Tori and Maura on this one…I think he liked your work, especially since he admitted “dismissing” it before examining it more closely…

    He’s just one guy…some people like my cooking, and some people don’t!

    Hugs,
    Wendy

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    • Yes, he is just one guy. Good point, Wendy. But, fortunately, this doesn’t really bother me much any more. Would I have prefered a raving review–yes. Does it matter now–not really. Thanks, my friend, for reading———————

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  8. I actually didn’t read it to be a negative review– I interpreted it more like he had dismissed you from the outset but found out that you were more sophisticated in your use of symbols, etc. than he had initially suspected. (In a way, because he admitted his errors *in print* and that his too-blasé attitude at the beginning had caused him to overlook deeper meanings and intelligent connections in your artwork, it could actually be a POSITIVE review, no?)

    To me, the use of the term “maturity” in any art review is loaded. Some very, VERY successful artists have used “less sophisticated” techniques and/or motifs to their advantage– financial and otherwise. Keep creating, Kathy– this particular review was far from a pan, and like you say– you are 10 years wiser now! 🙂

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  9. I read that review twice and carefully. I have to say I agree with Dana. (And she said it so much better than I ever could. So I’m just going to shamelessly say: What she said!)

    I did have to laugh: he made a big deal about how he got much more out of your paintings after reading your statement and wondered about “chicken and egg”, but I am pretty sure he would not have got all those “public space vs personal space” musings if he had not read Gohde’s statement. Double standards?

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    • Thanks, Karyn– That would be great if he thought they were deeper, but I’m not really sure what you mean my “smooth.” At any rate, it’s great to hear from you again–hope you will come back and maybe help me understand the “smooth” part.

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  10. Pingback: Gallery Saturday | reinventing the event horizon

  11. It IS amazing the difference a decade makes, Kathy. I definitely see that in my own life. I’m a much different person now than ten years ago and hopefully I’ll be a much different person ten years from now. Keep up the great work and an art exhibit could be fun.

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