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Painting Possibilities: Artistic Expression at Evansville State Hospital

By Donna Mesker, Treatment Mall Director

Photo of Evansville State Hospital“The hardest part is putting the brush to the canvas.” What a profound statement from one of the patients at Evansville State Hospital. As we all know, the hardest thing to do is to try something different, something new.

At ESH this is exactly what they are doing as part of their active treatment. Expanded to include expressive and creative art activities, key benefits include: self-discovery, personal fulfillment, empowerment, relaxation and symptom relief. Emphasis on the creative process allows patients to tap into underutilized internal resources. The group sessions also enhance positive social interaction, empathy, and support from peers. The patients, as artists, learn that others are not perfect and as a result, perceived short-comings become a bonding experience.

The Treatment Mall at ESH provides specific classrooms for these activities with instruction by the Rehabilitation Therapy staff. Employees use their individual skills and talents to conduct these creative classes to educate and provide a variety of opportunities for the patients. The classes are centered on visual mediums including fine arts, ceramics, paper crafts, card making, sculpting and painting.

Painting moves past the initial fear of trying something new and different through the creative process into a realm of possibilities. Specific instruction such as brush techniques, color blending and depth perception is provided by two ESH staff members.

Patients are offered opportunities to practice prior to painting on canvas and instructed that if they do not like what they paint, paint over it. Providing painters with a variety of materials in assorted colors and textures can enhance Wendy's Purple Abstract ESHtheir interest in the process and may result in a richer, more diverse exploration in the resulting artwork. The supplies used in painting are limited only by the artist's imagination.

Some patients attempt free-style painting while others prefer a picture for guidance with spatial relationships and color formation Paintings are done on either canvas paper or a stretched canvas. Patients are able to keep the canvas paper paintings and display them in their rooms or give them to family and friends. The stretched canvas paintings are displayed throughout the hospital. Presently, more than 40 framed paintings are on display at ESH and 15 are on display at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis.

Popularity of the painting class is evidenced by patients requesting to participate and by those in the class requesting more painting time. A female patient with a traumatic brain injury stated “I used to have a two track mind, but now I have a one track mind. When I’m painting, I’m able to block things out and focus.” She went on to say she wanted to “paint when out of the hospital and have it accepted.”

One patient said he liked the painting class because “it’s relaxing and I can express myself which is hard to do…at least in words.” Another patient conveyed that one of his symptoms was he “had trouble focusing and it helped me focus.”

When the patient-artists were asked if they would allow their paintings to be displayed at the Government Center in Indianapolis, every reply was affirmative. With 15 patient’s paintings now on display in Indianapolis, the patients feel acceptance through their art. One patient eloquently stated, “I feel like I have a feather in my cap instead of just a plain hat.”

Art as a medium has both short and long term benefits. While in the hospital, it promotes the learning process and the awareness necessary for recovery. Once discharged, it is a medium which enhances the quality of a patient’s leisure skills over their lifetime.

The goal of the art program at ESH is not to create masterpieces, but to emphasize creative expression.Studies consistently indicate that art is an important aspect within the overall treatment of people who have a serious mental illness. This has certainly been true of the services offered at ESH.

Click here to see EHS patient art on display at the Indiana Government Center