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Exceptional Minds: The Convergence of Art and Mental Illness in the 21st Century

Saturday, April 14, 10 am - 5 pm
Baillie Court

Additional limited sliding scale tickets are available by calling Workman Arts at 416-583-4339.

Some of the world’s greatest artists have been mentally ill – painters like Paterson Ewen, Emily Carr, Adolf Wölfi, Georgia O’Keefe, Henry Darger, William Kurelek, Vincent van Gogh, Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson; musicians including Mozart, Beethoven, Glenn Gould, Sinead O’Connor and Tchaikovsky; and writers like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Leo Tolstoy. This list is only a sample of the artistic greats from our history that drew some of their energy and inspiration from their illness.

Join practicing artists and theorists of culture and art as they explore timely questions about of art, society and mental illness.

This symposium brings together the do-ers, the thinkers and the topics, setting the historical context of the nexus between madness and art. It also poses the questions, “What’s in a name?”, what are assumptions around mental health and creativity, and how are these ideas informed by language and terminology?


Presented in partnership with Workman Arts 

Symposium Program

10 am
Matthew Teitelbaum

Gillian McIntyre and Lisa Brown

10:15 – 11:30 am
Touched With Fire: Creativity and Moods of the Mind
Keynote speaker: Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD
A possible link between “madness” and genius is one of the oldest and most persistent of cultural notions; it is also one of the most controversial. Dr. Jamison will present evidence for significantly increased rates of depression and bipolar illness in writers and artists, discuss possible reasons for these elevated rates and open up discussion about potential clinical and ethical concern.
11:30 – 11:45 am
Coffee break

11:45 am – 1 pm
Art and Madness: A Social History
Hans Looijen and Dr. Allison Crawford
Moderator: Dr. David Goldbloom

1 – 2 pm
Bagged lunch in Baillie Court

2 – 3:15 pm
Stigma and Brand: What Art and the Art World Communicate About Mental Illness
Dr. Otto Wahl and Jan Swinburne
Moderator: James FitzGerald

3:15 – 3:30 pm
Tea break

3:30 – 4:45 pm
What’s in a Name? The Impact of Categorizing Art from Artists with Mental Illness
Janos Marton, Lisa Walters and Michelle Kopczyk
Moderator: Dr. David Goldbloom

4:45 – 5 pm
Closing Remarks
Dr. David Goldbloom


Symposium Participants

Keynote: Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D. is the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is also Honorary Professor of English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She is the co-author of the standard medical text on bipolar illness and author of Touched With Fire, An Unquiet Mind, Night Falls Fast, Exuberance, and Nothing Was the Same.

Dr. Alison Crawford is a Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, where she is faculty with the Healthcare, Arts and Humanities Program.  She has developed a course, Visualizing the Body, for medical students and residents at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and is interested in fostering a critical understanding of the personal, historical and cultural lenses we bring to looking and representing.  She is also a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where she is completing a dissertation involving the role of the visual in narrative, particularly humanitarian narratives.

James  Fitzgerald  is a journalist and author who’s most recent book, "What Disturbs Our Blood", won the 2010 Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize. The historian Michael Bliss commented: "I have never read such a thorough and relentless treatment of the issues of suicide and addiction... a remarkable piece of work."

Dr. David Goldbloom was born in Montreal and raised in Quebec and Nova Scotia. He completed an honours degree, majoring in Government, at Harvard University and then attended the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar where he obtained an M.A. in Physiological Sciences. He trained in medicine and psychiatry at McGill University and is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Dr. Goldbloom’s activities have been recognized and awarded by his peers and students. He has authored numerous scientific articles and book chapters and has provided talks and lectures to student, professional and public audiences. He is Vice-Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. In addition to his professional activities, Dr. Goldbloom is Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada.

Michelle Kopczyk Artist, Managing Director of Fuse Magazine.  Michelle Kopczyk is is the Managing Director of Fuse Magazine, one of North America’s finest alternative art publications. She a practicing artist and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, economics and politics, with art history, from the Open University, in England. Michelle’s overarching interest is to elevate the economic independence of artists and to redress notions of ableism due to ignorance of mental health illness, addiction and other ‘disability’ issues. Before this, Michelle was the Operations and Educational Programs Director of Gallery Gachet in Vancouver. Through artistic means, Gachet aims to demystify and challenge issues related to mental health and social marginalization in order to educate the public and promote social and economic justice.

Hans Looijen, Director, Het Dolhuys National Museum of Psychiatry, Netherlands and Chairman, International Madness and Arts Foundation. Hans Looijen is a cultural entrepreneur with a mission to reduce prejudice against psychiatry and psychiatric patients. Looijen envisions the Het Dolhuys museum as an agent of change and reflection and seeks to expand the museum’s impact through partnerships, knowledge-sharing and activities. The Het Dolhuys museum’s permanent exhibitions showcase the history of psychiatry through the position of the patient while temporary exhibitions focus on current social issues in psychiatry. ”Het Dolhuys is about the boundary between normal and abnormal,” says Mr. Looijen. “Personally, I think that the tolerance of 'the other person' is under considerable pressure in our society. I want to change this, through the museum and beyond.’’

Janos Marton, Ph D. is the co-founder of the Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and has been its director for more than 25 years. In 1982 patients were encouraged to use their vulnerability as a strength, and together with the polish artist Bolek Greczynski a 44 thousand sq ft. abandoned building on the hospital grounds was transformed into the current art space with museum and workshops. The Living Museum is the first successful model of an art asylum in the United States where patients thrive as artists in a self-run creative environment.

Jan Swinburne is a visual artist whose practice is centered on concepts worked through paint and other materials that at times mutate into large-scale, site-specific installations. Jan Swinburne lives and works in Toronto and is a member of Workman Arts visual advisory board has worked in the disability community as an art facilitator and is alumni of the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Otto Wahl Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Hartford. Dr. Wahl earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and has taught at the University of Rochester (NY) and George Mason University (Fairfax, VA). Currently, Dr. Wahl is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hartford. He has written extensively on the topic of media depiction of mental illness. 

Lisa Walter is a multi-faceted artist, educator, and journalist who lives and works in Toronto. Her first full-length play, Difference of Latitude, was published in an anthology by Canadian Playwrights Press in 2005. She has been exhibiting her visual art since 2010, including two works for Nuit Blanche, and participated as a visual and media artist with Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival in 2010 and 2011. The Globe and Mail has described her work as “delicate and unsparing.” Lisa is the 2011- 2012 Visual Artist in Residence at Workman Arts.

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