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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Screen Faces: The Doppelganger Effect

In art, film on December 29, 2014 at 11:20 pm

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of ‘El Dorado’, 1966

Back a ways when I was a little kid I was used to seeing Dean Martin on television via his weekly variety series. And he was in big screen westerns with John Wayne; and so was Robert Mitchum. Both Martin and Mitchum had what women called “bedroom eyes” in those coy times when demands of cock measurements were unheard of. (Incidentally, resisting all temptation, both stayed married to their first wives for decades.) Film reviewers described them as “heavy lidded”, referring to their deceptively casual approach to acting and lazy look of almost dropping off to sleep — again, a reference to the importance of eyes in dramatic acting; something totally irrelevant in the current 37-year-long era of special effects/CGI. (Again incidentally, for you fellow trivia lovers, seen in the same movie — Five Card Stud, 1968 — Mitchum at 6ft-1 towered over Martin, who claimed to be the same height.)

To my immature thinking, Mitchum (his vast store of varied characterisations unknown to me) was something of a standin for Martin, whom I’d noticed first. Just as, to Bob Hope, western star Randolph Scott was “a cut-rate Gary Cooper” — a physical double, but without the same appeal. Others accused Dane Clark of coopting John Garfield’s early method approach to pushy working-class toughs, though to see them in the same film (Destination Tokyo, 1943) they aren’t really much alike at all. There was the same denigrating of Kirk Douglas “wanting to be” Burt Lancaster; they appeared in seven movies together and surely only the ill-informed (to put it politely) could get them confused. But you have to laugh out loud in sympathy at Robert Mitchum’s story of getting called out in an Irish pub for being Kirk Douglas. On the other hand, though Burt Reynolds’ dark, virile looks and lithe movement might closely resemble Marlon Brando from some angles they are never compared because not remotely in the same kind of movies, never mind the gap in eras.

More and more, other likenesses occurred to me. Again, based solely on which one I’d seen first, wasn’t Buddy Hackett a stand-in for Lou Costello? Thoughtful, sensitive Joan Hackett (probably not Buddy’s sister) for simmering soap hottie Barbara Parkins? Much later as I got deeper into films, I wondered, did star-producer Burt Lancaster select and groom young Dianne Foster into a standin for Rita Hayworth, in The Kentuckian (1955), three years before he was able to work with the original item (Separate Tables, 1958)? Their shared, red-haired lissome sensuality is superficial but striking.

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Today it’s an absolute exception to stumble on a major movie actor who doesn’t resemble the rest. After all, over the past twenty years or so, an Arnie Schwargenegger movie is a Sylvester Stallone movie is a Chuck Norris movie is a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie is a Steven Seagal movie is a Harrison Ford movie is a Liam Neeson movie is a Matt Damon movie is a Johnny Depp movie — and all are a subset of the original Clint Eastwood action genre. And isn’t Mark Wahlberg a poor man’s remake of handsomer Matt Damon? Frightening how the screen landscape has contracted to a microsopic point compared to the broad spectrum of screen genres there used to be.Matt_Damon_Pumped

The A-list actors still active on screen, who have something to say and are capable of interpreting it with subtlety? Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Ellen Barkin, even Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp when they’re in the mood… a few others but they’re mostly dead from overdoses (uncoincidentally?) come to think of it.

“ROCK MUSIC EBOOK 2013 — SIXTIES WHITEBOY ROCK (Part 2): Beach Boys, Jersey Boys & Beatledom” by G. A. De Forest

In art, celebrity, generational/fashion, music on July 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm

Buy this ebook from Amazon for $9.99 (or borrow it for two weeks for a lot less) — or face the consequences. These include staying ignorant of the real facts of the Sixties music scene, a subject, though a half-century out of date, remains dear to the hearts of all right-thinking people around the world. Rock stars to this day are strongly influenced, “sample” and downright copy sounds from this era. But they do this at their peril because no way can they recapture the excitement and spirit of that music and time — set in context as it is here in this book.

The direct link to the book is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DQFWEJQ

It is about 60,000 words and has some 60 photos of top attractions of the day — so Bon voyage!

Don’t be the only loser on your block!

FILM ART PEAKS: Seventy years ago today

In art, film, history, Humor, sociology on July 8, 2013 at 5:19 am

King_Kong_1933There’s a long-time popular theory that film as an art form peaked in the silent days — when the greatest artists coming to film were painters, sculptors, writers, philosophers and other creative spirits — and the possibilities of sound had been virtually fully exploited by the end of the 1930s; certainly by the end of the Forties, for the sake of including the psychological profundity and visual stylishness of Film Noir. I happen to agree.

But by 1940 the possibilities of virtually every recognised film genre seemed to have been explored and fulfilled. There can hardly have been a better horror flick than Frankenstein, The Mummy or Bride of Frankenstein; a better fantasy adventure than King Kong; a better sc-fi than Shapes of Things to Come; a better swashbuckler than Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood or Tyrone Power’s Mark of Zorro; a better family musical than the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz; a better kids adventure than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with unsung Tommy Kelly; a better social conscience film than the John Ford-Henry Fonda Grapes of Wrath; a better social/sophisticated comedy than My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard; a better screwball comedy than Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn); a better crime film than William Wyler’s Dead End; a better soap than Gone With the Wind; a better western than Stagecoach or Jesse James; a better women’s picture than The Women or Bette Davis’s The Letter; a better animated film than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Fantasia; a better noir than Marcel Carne-Jean Gabin’s Le Jour Se Leve; come to that, better foreign films than those of Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Renoir or Rene Clair; or, filmed that last year, a better definitive masterpiece than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. After that, well, filmmakers were reduced to fiddling on a theme.

You know people have too much time to kill when they put out a movie called Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and are serious about it; it’s not a Mel Brooks comedy or Tim Burton send-up, or even those brothers who did the Airplane and Naked Gun flicks. I stumbled on this gem leafing through the TV Guide and came to be thankful I’m not rich and idle enough to afford the Sky Movies channel, just the MGM and TCM channels in a cut-rate deal, showing oldies. This film is not a cheapo, but stars James Bond superstar Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, who I once caught acting in a 1984 thriller involving the Amish and before that in a cameo in American Graffiti (1973). Since then he’s spent most of his time trying to figure out wookies and who-knows-what else.

Researching, it’s a DreamWorks adaptation of a comic book, the third in a series, believe it or not. And you know people have too much money when you find out it cost the gargantuan amount of $163 million — admittedly a fraction of what that woman won in the lottery but maybe enough to raise a few South Sea islands out of the drink to save a few hundred thousand people from global warming for the duration if others in the know put their heads to something worthwhile. That was just to film and edit it to get it in the can (no, the other one, worse luck), plus who-knows-how-much to promote it — probably Wizard_of_oz_movie_posterat least doubling the outlay. It took in a lousy $100 million at the box-office its first three months in the USA (plus the DVD crowd) and out of 120,000 responders at the IMDb site it’s scored barely six out of ten, very low for your average special effects blockbuster. So maybe there’s hope for the human race yet — apart from filmmakers.

Probably the best thing about the movie is the title — no, don’t expect me to actually watch it — almost clever the way it almost duplicates the old kids game of Cowboys & Indians. Almost, but nowhere good enough to be called witty. Leaving out the initial Star Wars cycle (1978), when the whole special effects genre was still novel enough to be interesting, the first movie I noticed like this, combining a reference to history as a veneer on top of thick, gooey fairytale fantasy, was Beethoven, which turned out to be a comedy about a dog. Of course, when a pretend-historical cycle came into fashion, they did movies on the actual Beethoven’s girlfriend and then Shakespeare’s girlfriend — betraying their anti-feminist belief that the only women worth taking notice of are women who’d succeeded with famous men, not in their own right: snob versions of Bunnies of the Playboy Mansion or Kardashians on tv. These were mixed in indiscriminantly with a lot of romantic novels from the Age of Romance: i.e. Jane Austen, ad nauseam, a.k.a. How to Misunderstand (and Catch) a Man 101.

Let’s not be too hard because this is probably what passes for creativity today, along with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, designer labels, junk sculpture, more comic book mentality and anything else that attracts heaps of bucks from gullible people with chronically fugged minds. Fans of this drek often justify themselves by saying it’s film art in the mold of The Beach Girls & the Monster or the finest works of Ed Wood — which were only ever intended as cheap knockoffs made for the lowest common denominator for a few thousand dollars each, and which only inconvenienced very few film craftsmen at a time and hardly more souls at the box-office. But we must brace ourselves. Every art form (maybe involving a handful of unrecognized films each year these days) goes through historical highs and lows. English-language poetry as a worthwhile art form (I don’t know enough about French, almost nothing about Russian) after the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras was fairly barren from the silencing of Milton around 1660, finding himself banned on Charles II’s restoration of the monarchy, and the advent of Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth c.1797; 137 years give or take. (In the intervening generations only Dryden, Swift and Pope made any mark in English-language poetry.) So, subtracting the 35 years we are in to the Star Wars age already, we can allow up to a century or so for film as an art form to get back on track.

Casablanca

PROGRESSING PAST VOCABULARY: The Three Essential Adjectives in Modern English

In anthropology, art, generational/fashion, Humor, literature, satire on June 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm
A little scholar of tomorrow, aspiring to fill her head with at least a dozen words for all occasions.

littlescholarIn days of yore, say back as far as the 1960s, there were massive tomes called dictionaries. Though it was known that the average person might have a vocabulary of some four thousand words or less, even “simplified” dictionaries would have as many as 65,000 to 75,000 words — so at least 60,000 too many for even the most talkative people. Those compiled by ancient, outdated educational institutions like Oxford and Cambridge Universities dating back to medieval times might include double that number in their more than comprehensive, overgrown volumes that contained the origin of the word, umpteen different meanings and senses, and examples of how these nuanced usages might be utilized in sentences by show-offs.

The language built up steadily, out of hand for over two thousand years, expanding to something with virtually infinite turns and twists. It came to be admired by so-called brainy people throughout the world just for its exquisitely descriptive value, unparalleled logical definition and finnicky grammar that qualified shades of meaning. All this was appreciated by just a few thousand elite around the world out of seven billion. If it had been confined to just one person’s head, like the maths in Archimedes’ this surplus knowledge could have been easily nipped in the bud as his was by his timely assassination by that Roman stud, cut and buff in his form-fitting battle dress making him look so hot.

But those dudes with their jive-ass — sorry — runaway egos painstakingly designed what they grandly called works of art based on this language, using imaginary imagery and tricky devices conjuring poetic beauty from a blank page — that went over the heads of everyone but a few of their own. When everyone knows that a work of art is something you can see in front of you like an awesome multicolored tattoo, mass produced so tried and true, with heaps of symbolic meaning, by a proper tattoo artist, or a nice mosaic coffee table with pretty colors, or hear, like a vocal on American Idol that can spread one syllable across eight notes. It all snowballed and got “stink”, to use a well chosen descriptive catchall in common New Zealand usage. So I say — All the more credit to recent generations who have simplified the language and made it accessible to a great many more people who are now able to be admired for their fluent speech, even their gift of the gab.

Those best at the art of simplification have invented an abbreviated written language too for text messaging, now coming into more general use and far more concise than the spoken word — an outmoded form of communication just begging to be clipped down to manageability. Soon we will all be speaking in grunts and moans, sighs and snorts, hand gesticulations and facial contortions that served our primate forebears so very well. Human communication is said to be 93% nonverbal anyway, so why not take this important lesson from our ancestors?

The biggest corporates, teachers and other cultural leaders are not doing too badly though. If we look at just one part of speech, the descriptive adjective, the necessary vocabulary for anyone speaking English can be boiled down to three words: “awesome”, “not okay” and “inappropriate”. The word awesome is not the awesome that used to be, that is, inspiring awe — a word that has no useful meaning whatever — but more like the “fab” or “groovy” of yesteryear. It is therefore an ideally leveling word that exalts all achievements and accidents of birth alike. Where we might say a man who has developed the ability to smoke a cigarette with his lips and drink an alcoholic beverage through his nose on the same breath is truly awesome, we could also courteously apply the term — though we don’t really mean it — to a steady, admittedly boring researcher with nerdy hornrim glasses (actually a geek to be honest), progressing by inches towards a cancer cure, in order to make him feel good about himself for a moment and caringly bolster his self-esteem with a white lie.

Inappropriate is hardly at all like the inappropriate of before, meaning unsuitable. Inveterate diners used to say, “It is inappropriate to drink red wine with fish, and white wine with red meat.” But to dance a rhumba to a chacha rhythm is no longer inappropriate but creative, original and maybe freaky to those with an extraordinary vocabulary expanded to take in impressive technical jargon according to their specialization on tv shows, cooking, music or dancing. Today inappropriate should be applied only in those situations where a cover-all adjective is needed for “anything I don’t like.” In this way “inappropriate” is a useful conversation stopper and final judgment that precludes all debate on or enquiry about a particular subject that is probably unnecessary in the first place, maybe involving abstract concepts which don’t even exist anymore in everyday life; only in the minds of over-intellectualized dweebs.

“Not okay” is perhaps the most versatile compound adjective, handy for almost every occasion. A bereaved family member interviewed this week about the searing effects on the loved ones of his 15-year-old nephew being punched and kicked to death by two rugby team mates at practice was able to summon up composure enough in his grief at the funeral to say straight from the heart, “Violence is not okay.” The same well-spoken, obviously well-educated Kiwi, probably in a high-flying occupation, in a different circumstance might rightly apply this adjective to a gauchely misapplied dessert sauce on a television cooking show, thoughtlessly dolloped on the plate instead of tastefully and aesthetically drizzled.

JAMES BOND: The Sky is Falling

In art, film, Humor on December 9, 2012 at 7:21 am

When my old friend (an occupational hazard of being friends for more than a quarter century) John is let off the leash by wife Bev he often drags me along to whatever man’s movie of the moment has caught his eye — and pays for me so I don’t have to break my vow of never paying to see a modern movie until they get some style; a little will do. He must have got the idea I was itching to watch any movie as I told him to be on the lookout for a re-release of Shane (1953), the unbeatable Western color classic I’d half-heard previewed on the radio. He doesn’t value the oldies as much as I do: They’re full of acting and dramatics, plotting, scene-setting and atmospherics rather than THE GREAT GOD TECHNOLOGY and cartoon theatrics, cartoon violence, cartoon sex.

I anticipated an Imax or 3-D version — but we haven’t been able to find it. Earlier this year it was the very, very lowkey remake of John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy about early Sixties Cold War espionage within MI6. This time it was Skyfall, about early millennium Cold War espionage within MI6. The poor Brit spy schools haven’t learnt much in the past 50 years…

To avoid ‘spoiling’ the whole thing for you action fans, and to save myself the trouble, I’ll just mention a few lowlights and points worth noting.

* Near the beginning of the movie Bond goes through some of the usual leaping from tall buildings, chase scenes in a car, chase scenes on foot, fighting on top of a train. Every time I see him make incredible leaps into nowhere and other physically impossible moves I think of the old Warner Brothers cartoons. Not that Bond should necessarily be remade as a cartoon character — though it would be more believable and a lot funnier that way — but what about that half-and-half filming process they did for Tin-Tin ? At least it wouldn’t insult the people in the audience with a three-digit IQ by asking them to believe that actual humans are capable of all this.

* Daniel Craig’s permanently pursed lips — like the moulded plastic of a marionette hero from Thunderbirds — are starting to get annoying. I always half expect him to come out with something totally inappropriate in the context of making love to a woman: “Kissy, kissy!”

Skyfall* Daniel Craig shouldn’t have such close-cropped hair. There were several sustained shots of him front-on in silhouette and it made me think of The Return of Batfink or Wingnut People Conquer the Universe rather than James Bond. I’m not being picky here because I have a very similar problem myself, only lower down.

* I’ve never understood the hullabaloo about Dame Judy Dench and (Lord?) Albert Finney. Here they’re both in their seventies and it’s nice to see the old dears still trotted out and mentally competent, but I’d swear their faces had seized up worse than Charles Bronson’s in Death Wish IV or V that I reviewed a few weeks ago.

* Potential spoiler alert here: Just when we’d reached a point in the plot where I thought we were coming to the end of the movie — no real disappointment that it didn’t end here because there was plenty of good action still to come. Bond has chased arch-villain Javier Bardem (probably the best performer in the flick) down into the London Underground aware that he’s going to take out Dame Judith. As Bardem is climbing a metal ladder to escape his pursuer, Bond pulls his handgun and fires two shots that ricochet off the rungs and miss his nemesis. Bardem stops dead, but instead of Bond finishing him off with a third shot he stops to watch and listen as Bardem grapples with his bomb detonating apparatus, takes a few precious moments to grasp it, and places his thumb over the whoopsie button. Then he takes his time and tells Bond, rapt as an attentive schoolkid, a cute story about this being his new toy — after Bond had shown off his new issue handgun and radio in a previous scene. It’s the kind of exchange where you had to be there. But because this Bond is something of an automaton (hasn’t every hero been since The Terminator?), apparently with the brain reaction of a slow one, half of London is about to be destroyed and Dame Judith is forced to take premature retirement.

* Bond’s incompetence is attempted to be ‘explained’ beforehand through much tiresome exposition by his months off boozing in mourning and he is supposedly out of shape — Didn’t look like it to me, and this plot device didn’t work.

SPORTS REVIEW — ENGLISH FOOTBALL (SOCCER): THE BEAUTIFUL GAME?

In art, sport, television on August 15, 2011 at 10:41 am

After watching last year’s World Cup on tv, I could swear English soccer is a different game. Having just seen several of the opening games of English Premier League (2011-12), featuring its top teams, I am already beginning to regret signing up for Sky Sports (at a steep extra $26 a month). And it’s not all because the first home match of my favorite team was postponed due to the ‘Tottenham’ Riots of August 7th.

I can see why the English Premier League is called the toughest in the world. Any number of brilliant players from overseas are forced to play the English way — faster, more physical, and less skilfull, typically pushing the ball and running in hope. Or lofting the ball far upfield, often to no one in particular as a (low) percentage shot. Of the ones who choose to tone down their skills for the English game, many still never adapt and end up labeled failures — until they are sold back to any one of approximately 200 countries where The Beautiful Game is played.

Of those who stay on and “tough it out”, injuries lasting three to five months through the prime of a nine-month season are becoming more and more the norm. Of course, English players too are more prone to injuries in the modern game. There’s only so much punishment week in, week out, that flesh and bone can stand. Even a moderately successful Premier League side will play the required 38 league games, plus a run of up to half a dozen FA Cup games, the same number of Carling Cup games, and maybe up to ten or a dozen games in European competition.

Under these conditions it is no surprise that, for example, Tottenham Hotspur, that rarely faces European competition, has no less than 22 full international players in its squad of 33, quality players from an array of countries — most of whom will spend months on the bench, loaned out to other teams, or injured, without the fans getting to see them. A sighting of these top-quality international players — Spurs fans can name them from Mexico, Russia, Croatia and Brazil — in a Tottenham jersey is about as rare as a 14-year-old virgin.

So having watched the opening games of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on the first day, from whom great things are expected this season, there was no beauty on display, rarely even any excitement. It was 31 minutes, as told by the commentators before Chelsea’s $100 million superstar (Torres of Spain) lodged his team’s first serious shot at goal. Manchester Utd’s game, that was at least energetic and worthwhile to watch (thanks mainly to their opponents West Bromwich Albion), though I didn’t manage all of it, was won by a fluke goal that ricocheted in off a defender. This most famous football team in the world has many ways of being favored — and will probably win again this year, just because it’s expected. How powerful in the everyday ways of the world is the devious power of suggestion… Thanks be to the gods of football that when they came up against Barcelona a few months ago to play The Beautiful Game it was outside of England and with a non-British referee. Manchester Utd had no answer, just as the England team never does in the World Cup, all things being equal.

A day later I have watched Manchester City’s opening game, to confirm that this ‘ennui’ is a trend in English football. Sure enough, this most expensive team in Europe — from whom such great things are dreamt — in a home game took an hour to score against Swansea City, in their first first match ever in the Premier League. Highlight of the game — the magnificent performance and cat-like reactions of the young Swansea City goalie!!!

PHOTO: The better to ward off increasingly common season-long injuries. The future of English football with its physicality?

football

MEDICAL REVIEW — THE THERAPEUTIC EFFECT OF ARTISTIC ACTIVITY FOR PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVORS

In anthropology, art, literature, music, politics, psychology/psychiatry on March 21, 2008 at 2:41 am

By G. A. De Forest, presented 4th October 2007 at the ‘Planting the Seeds’ Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

Artistic endeavours are one of the few ways people enmeshed (and often emotionally entombed) in the mental health system feel free to express themselves on their own terms. That is, if the artistic effort is not closely monitored by an NGO [‘non-governmental organization’, in the form of a charirable trust, incorporated society or business that is deemed to be providing services for mental health ‘consumers’]. There are cases of NGOs appropriating the work of ‘their’ artists for promotional or other purposes without asking permission of the artist or even attributing the work to the artist. An attitude of such disrespect would not be tolerated towards artists in the commercial world outside the mental health system, where an artist’s intellectual property is definitely his or her own—created by the artist and owned by the artist, morally and legally.

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

The aloneness of the dedicated artist, especially an eccentric one, is emphasized in a society where the Pacific priorities of family and wider social hierarchy are highlighted and conformity and ‘team play’ are foremost. The lumping together of culture and heritage in the same government ministry has cemented tradition as a prime societal objective, when the genuine artist might have as his goal to change culture and damn heritage. Overtones everywhere of cultural-political correctness and the economic importance of the tourist trade make it plain that to be exhibited in Te Mana, our national showcase to the world, is to make it big in New Zealand’s contemporary art world.

Too frequently clients are fed a diet of conformity by providers in the guise of helping. A wounded psyche, already disinclined to complain for fear of some backlash from the system, is encouraged to ‘think positively’. Genuine and deeply held opinions may be brushed aside as symptoms of the person’s condition by staff—who may lack a great deal less insight about life, about the possibilities and potential of the mind, and about simple person-to-person ethics.

This problem has unfortunately not been eliminated by including more and more ‘highly functioning’ former clients among staff, who are often picked for well developed logical functioning and who perform administrative tasks competently and efficiently but might understand little of the artistic process. Moreover, for fear of being seen as ‘a little loopy’ themselves by health authorities, many tend to err on the side of conservatism. The phenomenon of the professionally distanced client advisor or peer supporter is a recognized problem. Just as there are cases of ‘supporting’ NGOs exploiting their artistic clients, so there is no shortage of former clients, now staff, who censor their own kind for fear of being thought of as a collaborationist in nonconformity. It can be seen, then, that artistically inclined clients are stuck in an environment where opinions and emotions unpopular in society at large might be better expressed through fictional works, visual imagery and music.

I have learnt from experience as a writer that an article telling the unvarnished truth—with first-hand facts and statistics to back it up—should probably not be circulated within the so-called ‘The Consumer Movement’ (which actually shows very little if any movement). The result can very easily be vilification, even victimisation. A ‘nonfiction’ writer wanting to be heard by other mental health clients should go into satire, where the names and specific situations are changed to protect the guilty; or preferably fantasy, where the creative spirit is allowed free rein and there is no real risk of a backlash rebounding on a sensitive individual with the anguish that can cause.

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

The therapeutic effects of a healthy fantasy life have long been recognised as far back as Freud and beyond. These fantasies, however frowned upon in polite conversation, are of course essential to the human condition. Most are safely tucked away in dreams, even daydreaming. It is the dedicated artist’s job to bring them up from the unconscious and expose them to daylight, where in art form they are allowed to be openly appreciated—though no matter how skilful and insightful, even inspirational, still the artist might be the butt of disparaging remarks from those who have no insight into their own human condition.

It is no wonder that music in whatever form is the most universal of all pastimes—either performing or listening. Its rhythms were first engendered in the womb from our mother’s heartbeat, and after birth our mother’s tone of voice—hopefully singsong baby talk—assures us that all is right with the world. A baby learns to sing—wordless tunes in pure music—long before it learns to talk. In times of stress through teenagerhood and full adulthood what better resource to turn to when the world around us seems to be spiralling into chaos? It is no wonder, either, that many of the most ground-breaking musicians and other artists have been victims of mental disturbances—and found that artistic activity was their one reliable outlet and friend in times of real crisis.

Too often thrown back on their own inner resources, the artistic client must maximize both the quantity and quality of his creative time. For visual artists and writers this will inevitably mean more solitary time—which could create problems of its own if taken to extremes. For performance artists it means more time socialising in their most rewarding activity, generating much-needed feelings of wellbeing. For all, the time spent engaged in their chosen field will usually bring a feeling of satisfaction, often at least moderate pleasure and sometimes elation, even ecstacy. Hence the well-known catchall term for the creative process: The Agony and the Ecstacy.

It is a paradox that onset of serious mental symptoms leaves a person less inclined to perform music, while driving oneself to vocalise or play his or her instrument could very well act to somewhat relieve a depressive mood. It is in this way that structured daily sessions provided in various arts and crafts by NGOs alleviates the need for a high level of motivation on the part of the participant. Once in the class the creative instinct takes over and the therapeutic value gained will be related to how much is put in.

The generally high and in some instances exceptional standard of art works seen regularly at exhibitions sponsored by Auckland NGOs can be matched by those who choose to remain totally independent of umbrella organisations or attend ‘brushing-up’ classes to hone their skills and share fellowship with other artists. The proportion of visually creative people (and other artists) making up mental health clients as a whole must surely exceed that of the general population. Many completed art school as young people only to suffer a serious breakdown interrupting their career. The slow and often painful return to art brings their life back on course to where it should have been, and the return of competence in their chosen field boosts confidence greatly.

The emergence of worthy singer-songwriters from the ranks of mental health clients, some gaining national attention and acclaim, has been perhaps the most impressive success in the arts. Among those less musically gifted, informal vocal and instrumental groups allow essential expression of primal emotions. It is obvious, from observing the dynamics of an informal musical group coordinated by myself, that simply expressing oneself musically is a freeing experience, enabling a quantum leap into a deeper mental and spiritual personal state than, say, polite conversation, even among friends. Someone who has been almost totally silent during a social gathering for two hours immediately previous, will burst forth with torrents of forceful communication. It is a painful paradox then, at least for performance artists, that they feel least like singing or playing when they are going through a bad patch. It is then that friends and supporters should guide them back into their art to reintroduce and sustain a habit of self-therapy.

For the visual artist, it can easily be imagined that the first stroke of paint on canvas brings forth creative possibilities. There is a fast rush of creation stimulated by the activity itself. On the second and third strokes more ideas suggest themselves and on the fourth and fifth maybe already a pattern is emerging. A direction steadily coelesces into a theme, or the work is finally abandoned. But either way the stimulation of higher mental processes has brought many hours of hopefully undistracted, undiluted spiritual pleasure for the artist. Any wider appreciation by friends, supporters, recognition by the mental health community, even general public, are bonuses which can boost general confidence but does not match the ultimate high: the very act of creation.

It has been said that the future of the world depends on its most creative, free-thinking individuals; certainly not those living by ‘the rules’ and striving for consensus. If this is true—and I believe it is, it is a shame that more research has not been done into the higher workings of the mind.

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