Personal catharsis

Van Gough or What?

Sunflowers by Voyce and Van Gough. The picture on the right is of one of Vincent Van Gogh's many paintings of sunflowers that he did in 1888 in the South of France. On the left is a photograph of sunflowers in a vase taken in 2007. In recreating Van Gogh's painting with real flowers and a mock-up papier mache vase, I learned that he used different varieties of sunflower, and I grew these varieties in preparation for the eventual photograph.

This section links in with the section on narrative.

What is catharsis? For me, it is coming to terms with difficult times and incorporating those stories and events into everyday dialogue. It is about being able to move on, and it's about regaining a sense of purpose around things that are previously unspoken. Am I clean now, to reflect the Greek meaning of catharsis? Yes, I think that's a helpful way of describing how I feel about difficult times, which are namely my years in and out of the old Victorian asylum system. I am today largely unihibitied about mention of those days I spent from 1974 to 1991 as part mental ward patient and part vagrant.

I've done this in more than one way. I started to put down my personal narrative shortly after I left asylum care for the last time in 1991. This I did in prose, and eventually those few chapters were published by Chipmunka as 'The Durham Light and other stories'. I also developed a cartoon style, and these digital efforts are viewable here ( I have written a few songs with our group, SideFX, including 'Jesus Has Left The Asylum', 'At Least I'm Not A Schizophrenic', and 'Help Me Nurse, I Love You'. This adds fun to the cathartic process, as we have a laugh performing the songs, and there is humour intended in the lyrics. These can be found here (

So there is for me this definite and deliberate link for creativity to be cathartic in the form of narrative. However I have wider interests in creativity, and this has also been a therapy. It is maybe an unintended effect, that art, photography, and music can have a cleansing purpose. Through engaging in art and creativity, I have been able to appreciate the work of others I admire. For example, I worked in a garden for a few years and grew sunflowers. I then made a vase of papier mache and a coke bottle inner, and painted it like Vincent Van Gogh's vases from the series of sunflowers he painted around 1888. I filled the mock-up vase with sunflowers I had grown and photographed this. I quickly learned that Vincent had used more than one variety of sunflower. There are different colours as well as different varieties including doubles. I mounted my version of the work alongside Vincent's and that is now my screen saver whenever I give talks illustrated by a slide show. This emotion of almost joy at creating such an effort was not possible in my days of asylum life. Creativity allows distance from everyday cares, and I think that it alone has a cleansing power.