Public Art and Public Psychiatry


Art is embracing the world… is psychiatry?

paint, art



My wife and I recently attended an Artist Talk with Odili Donald Odita at Rice University. His large-scale mural, titled “Meeting Place / Painting with Changing Parts” was recently painted on the entrance walls of the music building. The name seems to be a variation on the minimalist music of Philip Glass, “Music with Changing Parts.” Previously, the walls were a dull white, sort of like that of a state mental hospital, my wife had commented.

His mural consisted of striking slashes of various colors, which he said he hoped would enhance and enlarge the experience of walking into the building, a complement to the everyday music practicing and playing. The students seemed to be careful and respectful. One was about to lean against a painted section, and another student admonished: “Don’t lean on the art!”

We know from historical statues to modern art that public art can be controversial. Some statues that are not consistent with current large group values have been removed. Some modern installations have been cancelled.

I do not know if any psychiatrists from Rice’s student mental health services were consulted, but perhaps mental health professionals could be of help as far as understanding the underlying feelings and meanings. Even more than that, what if public psychiatrists were really out in the public? Right now, public psychiatry refers to psychiatrists who work with the poor, not the rest of patients. The same is true of community psychiatrists, who work mainly with poor patients and not the larger community. Social psychiatry has had similar limitations. Is it just a perspective, as part of a bio-psycho-social model, or is the social psychiatrist engaged in all of society?

What might another kind of public psychiatrist do? Public psychiatry can go broader than public mental health. I have just got a hint of that in clinical and administrative retirement: serve on community boards; discuss movies; or write letters to the local papers. But couldn’t our knowledge be used much more, including for political actions and decisions? Like hospital rounds when the psychiatrist goes around seeing the patients and leads staff meetings, the public psychiatrist might go around various parts of the surrounding society with politicians, business leaders, and others. How about a regular appearance on local and national news shows?

Art once hung mainly in galleries, but now is out in the world. We have hung out mainly in our offices doing our important and essential individually-based clinical care, but perhaps now is our time to join art out in the world enhancing mental well-being.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

Related Videos
Dune Part 2
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.