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Why visual art students?

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

You might have noticed that this research focuses some visual art disciplines, but not performing art disciplines. Here's why.



In a previous post, I defined visual art disciplines and explained why I am researching a selection of these disciplines. But I haven't explained why other disciplines haven't been included. The main reason I narrowed the range of art disciplines for this research is that I have limited resources and needed to reduce the scope of the project to manage it better. However, I purposefully decided not to include performing art disciplines.


I chose to research visual art students because there is very little research literature that discusses ways to enhance their mental health and wellbeing. If we take a look at research literature, there is already some exciting, emerging research that explores wellbeing intervention for performing art students (e.g., Huddy, 2016; Moyle, 2016). Other interventions for performing artists include the Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH, see Hadok, 2008) and the Arts Wellbeing Collective (See Watts, 2017). Let's take a look at this intervention.


The Arts Wellbeing Collective was a one-year free pilot program, developed in response to a world-first study of mental health in the Australian entertainment industry (Eynde et al., 2016). This collective received enthusiastic involvement from roughly 150 organisations and individuals, and support from key spokespeople including Tim Minchin. Albeit an exciting intervention, the Arts Wellbeing Collective focuses on those working in the entertainment industry. I see the potential for partnerships and interventions like these to be extended across entire artist communities, not just those in the entertainment industry.


This raises a question for me: what about the visual artists, and training visual art students in Australia?

Is there any significant research that focuses on their mental health and wellbeing? Are there examples of evidence-based interventions designed to assist them with their wellbeing needs? So far, I have not found many examples. In the research literature, I have found only one example of university intervention specifically developed to enhance the wellbeing of different art students (Baik et al., 2017, see p. 33). This intervention is the "Interior Visualisation" unit, designed to provide different thinking styles for first-year architecture, engineering, fashion design, and interior design students.


I have also discovered a recent and rather exciting initiative: Never Not Creative. This is a community of creatives that "hope to support, inspire and come together to create the ideas, tools and solutions that improve the wellbeing of everyone in the industry and promote the value of creativity in the world" (Wright, 2018b). This community provides a space for discussion, sharing of information and development of new standards to improve creative practice outcomes. You can find a list of resources (including a drafted mental health policy) here.


Interventions can help enhance the wellbeing and resilience of visual art students before they enter the workforce. This may be ideal because university is a space that many artists (Throsby & Petetskaya, 2017) come to train. However, I have found limited examples of intervention for art students and no examples of intervention for student being taught the visual art disciplines covered in my research.


This is why my research is focused on visual art disciplines. I would like to see all art students (and indeed, all university students in general) be better prepared to meet the challenges they might encounter during their degree and after they graduate. I think this could be better achieved if students have a full awareness of their resilience and ways to manage their wellbeing during their degree. But my opinion here is not as important as the voice of the students themselves (which is why I am conducting this research!).


Sustainable and effective interventions need to be based on the opinions of the students and a thorough understanding of their mental health needs. Once developed, the ways they are implemented also need to be rigorously tested and evaluated to ensure they are the 'best fit' for visual art students. I propose that research can do a lot here to help art students, and the Visual Arts Wellbeing project may be a first key step—a foundation of evidence, if you will—that can guide future art curriculum.


I think this is an exciting time for visual art communities, especially when we consider the recent development of initiative like Arts Wellbeing Collective and Never Not Creative. I am a big fan of sharing information and discovering new ideas, so If you know of any other types of communities or classroom strategies that specifically address the mental health and wellbeing of artists or training visual art students, please contact me. Thanks!


For further reading, see:

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Field, R., . . . James, R. (2017). Enhansing Student Wellbeing. Retrieved from http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/research/experience/enhancing-student-wellbeing


Eynde, J., Fisher, A., & Sonn, C. (2016). Working in the Australian Entertainment Industry: Final Report Retrieved from Entertainment Assist: https://www.entertainmentassist.org.au/our-research/


Hadok, J. (2008). Performing Arts Healthcare in Australia-A Personal View. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 23(2), 82-84.


Huddy, A. (2016). Performance enhancement: A whole of person approach to first year Dance students’ transition into tertiary training. Performance Enhancement & Health, 4(1–2), 27-34. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.peh.2015.09.005


Moyle, G. M. (2016). Career transition programs for professional dancers: Exploration of the current Australian context. Retrieved from Brisbane: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/96285/


Throsby, D., & Petetskaya, K. (2017). Making Art Work: An economic study of professional artists in Australia. Retrieved from Australia: http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/making-art-work/


Watts, R. (2017). Major new initiative targets wellbeing in the arts. Retrieved from http://www.artshub.com.au/education/news-article/sponsored-content/professional-development/richard-watts/major-new-initiative-targets-wellbeing-in-the-arts-253108


Wright, A. (2018a). Mentally Healthy. Retrieved from https://medium.com/never-not-creative/mentallyhealthy/home


Wright, A. (2018b). What is Never Not Creative? Retrieved from https://medium.com/never-not-creative/what-is-never-not-creative-dc63c2984ab2

James Cook University

Townsville, Queensland

Australia, 4814

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