Jana Charl from Los Angeles, U.S.A, is a visual artist and for this issue of the ASLI magazine Jana chose the subject of art therapy and Insomnia to submit to our campaign “Mental Illness, Health and Recovery” which highlights artists using their creativity to express the issues surrounding mental illness. We chose Jana for her perspective as an artist which utilizes art as therapy and her knowledge of Art within psychology, a valuable voice in this mission to engage people in further understanding the role of creativity in aiding those with and their practitioners treating mental illness.
According to Jana her creative process can be defined as a combination of practices, predominantly painting and sculpture. Jana is a native of Los Angeles and holds a dual US-Swiss citizenship. While receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Art at the University of Redlands, California, she was a teaching assistant for General Psychology and also worked with chronic schizophrenics. Jana became fascinated with artwork created by schizophrenics and used art therapy with patients as a means to communicate and interact with them to better understand them.
More often than not, Jana’s process evolves while she’s working. Sketching ideas on paper or storing them in her mind, which is typically the point of departure and not necessarily the blueprint. Jana tries to remain flexible while she’s working and lets the accidents transform into inspiration. However, Jana tells us that she can be stubborn, impatient and destructive, only taking breaks as needed essentially preferring to complete a project by working on it nonstop. Some works take years to complete due to her tendency to paint over, deconstruct or reconstruct them.
Here is our interview with Jana:
Who are you influenced by within your creative discipline?
My father provided the foundation for my practice at an early age and continues to impact it. Our styles differ as I have developed my own style, but his influence is still apparent. I grew up working in his wood shop, learning how to work with various materials which has led to my interest in multiple media.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
I am interested in a wide range of causes, including environmental ones, feminist issues, healthcare, and social services. I have volunteered for environmental organizations: cleaning up and monitoring wetlands and beaches, and designing newsletters. The common theme for the majority of my artwork addresses feminist issues. After college, my first job was working at a community clinic on government grants reaching out to prevent teenage pregnancies as well as child abuse and neglect. I spent three months in Italy volunteering for a woman’s shelter. Yearly, I donate paintings to fundraisers for underrepresented women artists and Visual AIDS.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
The two statements reflect the power of art as both a practice and an impact on society.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in any way, and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
The process of creating artwork, including the themes I choose, is cathartic and a form of art therapy. It “saves” my life in the sense of adding meaning and purpose to it. Addressing issues and communicating them through my artwork, I seek to create a dialogue with the viewers. Raising awareness, I hope to affect change.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
My present goals and future goals are intertwined. I would like to gain wider exposure to have an impact on important causes. Technically, I will continue to explore and push the limits of different media.
The following questions are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
My experiences are second-hand ones. I studied psychology and developed a strong understanding of and compassion for those suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses.
How does your artistic / creative expression help you with your mental health?
It is an essential tool for relieving and coping with stress in order to maintain mental health. Delving into my unconscious while creating artwork allows for another level of awareness, there is a meditative quality that is healing.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else? Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
Mental illnesses vary in degrees of severity and consequent levels of both social acceptance and awareness. Stigmas clearly exist surrounding diagnostic labels. I have observed over the years specific disorders becoming the “flavor” of the moment, where labels are generously applied to certain behaviors and popularly used. Maybe this serves to lessen the stigma of the particular mental illness by raising the awareness?
I believe that in the art world. mental illness is more accepted than in general society. Labeling is actually used for artist’s stylistic qualities, such as “OCD” if there is an attention to detail and precision and “depression” if subject matter is dark.
How do you feel the Government in your country helps people with mental health problems?
Our healthcare system has undergone a dramatic change with “Obamacare” which is helping more people get affordable care and treatment. Previously, those diagnosed with mental health illnesses could face unaffordable health care or be denied coverage. Although coverage can no longer be denied, some of the issues in treating mental health will probably remain, especially due to the stigma associated with mental illness which inhibits many from seeking help.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
Definitely. There is a lot of research on this topic, and my specific experience facilitating art activities with chronic schizophrenics supports this.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s Mental Illness, Health and Recovery Campaign?
I feel strongly about the subject matter and believe that art can have a positive impact. I hope that awareness will lead to greater acceptance.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the workplace and for equal opportunities?
Definitely. Discrimination only has negative consequences.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat other and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and maginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I believe that the purpose of diagnostic labels is effective for treatment. De-stigmatizing the labels would help more people seek treatment and not face discrimination.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion? If so, why?
No, I do not discriminate against others with mental illnesses.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
I admire artists/creatives/performers based on their passion and expression of their art, not on their specific personal characteristics. The obstacles faced may add to my understanding of the art but not how I judge or perceive it.
Very nice interview. Congratulations, Jana.