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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 02:47 GMT 03:47 UK
'Modern art made me blue'
Mouth: Gilbert and George
Not just beauty that is in the eye of the beholder

Modern art has often been accused of being meaningless but could this mean it can bring on mental illness?

A man who studied art theory and postmodernism at university says feelings of disengagement and alienation as a result of his studies caused him to suffer serious depression after graduation.

Scott Reid, 28, currently a secondary school history teacher in Hackney, London says the theory of postmodernism and its teachings that everything is relative made him feel he no longer knew what reality was.

"I felt that no activity had any more meaning than any other. I became seriously depressed," he said.

"What was the point of concentrating on any activity if it had no real point? If you believed what we had been taught at university, everything had equal meaning.

"If you took this to its logical conclusion, everything meant nothing."


I felt that no activity had any more meaning than any other. I became seriously depressed

Scott Reid
Some health experts say a major cause of depression in modern societies can be caused by feelings of a lack of engagement or alienation with a community and a lack of purpose.

A sense that there is no structure to society may increase a vulnerable person's sense of disengagement from the world and could increase their chance of suffering from depression.

Studies from the University of Manchester psychiatry unit show that problem solving skills and engagement with the community can successfully treat depression.

"A lack of problem solving skills and separation from community can cause a person to find life more difficult," said a spokesperson.

Cold water

But according to psychiatrist Dr Jan Scott, Kings College London: "there is no empirical data to suggest that modern art or exposure to its theories can cause any form of mental disorder."

"Obviously viewing paintings or other works of art, or watching your team lose a football match, or any other event or experience that an individual views as a negative for them may transiently affect their mood."

"But this is within the boundaries of our normal emotional responses. It is not precipitant of mental disorder."

"Someone taking an arts course and then suffering depression is more likely to be coincidence."

'Overwhelmed'

But Scott disagrees: "I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps I was just too sensitive and most people can distance themselves from their studies. But I didn't. I took it all on board."

Scott was treated for over a year with a variety of anti depressants including Prozac.

Although he is now able to work full time and enjoys his job he often experiences the old feelings of inertia and mild depression.

"Personally, I think studying something more concrete like history also helped me on the way to recovery," he said.

"Of course, there are different ways to read history and one way is to interpret history through theories of relativity and postmodernism, but thought that was a bad idea considering my own personal history."

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Talking Point
14 Dec 01 | Talking Point
20 Dec 00 | Health
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