Running Commentary

As a longtime supporter of psychology and the arts, I am very pleased that APA has been working with Div. 10 (Psychology and the Arts) to co-sponsor a beautiful new exhibit of outsider art on loan from Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI). APA headquarters is the ideal place to showcase this unique exhibit that features more than 80 works of art created by 15 artists with serious mental illnesses including bipolar depression and schizophrenia. In addition to its artistic merit, the new exhibit also expresses APA's commitment to understanding and helping people with serious mental illness.

Isolated from the mainstream

APA first learned of HAI when Elizabeth Marks, workshop program director and curator, wrote to me about her organization and its program in the visual arts in response to one of my Monitor columns. For over 30 years, HAI has been sponsoring experiences in the arts for people with serious mental illness and those isolated from the cultural mainstream. HAI is located in New York City, and funding for its programs for the mentally ill is provided by New York City's Department of Mental Health. Most of the artists whose work is on display at APA were born in the 1920s and '30s and spent much of their lives in institutions. Several of the artists have received international recognition, and some of their works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City and the Outsider Art Archive in London.

Psychologists' interest in the arts is not a new phenomenon. APA's third and best-known president, William James, was a painter long before he became a well-known psychologist.Div. 10 was one of 19 charter divisions established by APA in 1945. The division now has more than 500 members who are interested in promoting research in psychology and the arts on topics including cognition, creativity, motivation, personality and the relationship between pathology and the arts. Many of Div. 10's members are artists themselves.

Showcasing talent

When I became APA's chief executive officer, I looked for ways to highlight psychology's relationship with the arts. During our centennial year, the American Psychologist (AP), APA's flagship journal, got a new look featuring art on the cover. Since 1992, we have tried to show work by artists who are not widely exhibited in museums and artwork by psychologists and others interested in psychological phenomena. Some of our artists have experienced physical and psychological disabilities. The October 1998 cover of AP featured a painting by Jennie Maruki, one of the artists from HAI, and in honor of the current show, the AP will feature artwork created by another HAI artist sometime during the year.

Many APA members are talented in the visual arts, and this fact was demonstrated by the two consecutive exhibits of psychologists' artwork that were displayed in the APA headquarters building beginning in 1992. Our first show was established in honor of the APA centennial shortly after we moved to our new building. It featured about 30 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs, all created by members and affiliates and selected by a panel of local artists, critics and gallery owners. The success of the first show prompted us to sponsor a second exhibit of members' work that also was on display for two years.

Building further on our success, in February 1998, APA launched a third two-year exhibit. This exhibit, "Healing Art," was a collection of Native American art curated by Suzan Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. APA first met Ms. Harjo through a Heritage Day program for staff sponsored by APA's Affirmative Action Committee. "Healing Art" included a colorful collection of artwork that addressed the theme of physical, emotional and spiritual healing. It included work by renowned Native American artists, some of whose works had been exhibited at the Peabody Essex Museum and in the White House Sculpture Garden.

For our fourth APA exhibit, the Outsider Art from HAI seemed like a natural fit. And so, until May 2001, the sixth-floor reception area and executive offices will be graced with these unique works of art. During this year's APA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., APA sponsored an open house during which members viewed the art, talked to the curator and learned about the artists and their work in the exhibit catalog and a special issue of the Div. 10 newsletter. If you missed the convention open house, be sure to stop by to see the show the next time you are in town.