Page last updated at 00:55 GMT, Saturday, 11 December 2004

Mad for Arts

By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Help by Twink
The Angel of the North

When Twink looks at the Angel of the North he sees a "fantastic icon for manic depression".

To him its grandiose height represents his highs and the shadow it casts his lows. An unusual critique of such an iconic image, but one that has struck a cord with a number of mentally ill people.

Twink, formerly the official photographer with the rock band The Jam, is patron of the manic depression fellowship, and along with hundreds of others has his photographs on display on the MadforArts website.

Set up as a year long multi-media project by the Community Channel and funded by Culture online, part of the Department for Culture Media and Sport, MadforArts comprises of an interactive website and a series of 12 short films.


The aim of the site, which has 200 studios, is to get more people with experiences of mental health problems involved in the arts.

It allows people to air their thoughts on particular works of art, either famous or their own work.

People with mental illnesses tend to think outside those boxes to present people with a different point of view is good because it challenges people's way of thinking

Twink, who is 43-years old and comes from Newcastle, explains how taking and displaying his photographs on the website had given him a reason to get out of bed each day after years of depression.

"I use photography to de-stigmatise. Art is chocolate for the mind and through art you can explore all different kinds of emotions.

"Displaying these photos has inspired me to take more photos. They capture a theme and provoke people to think.

"People tend to think in boxes of conformity. People with mental illnesses tend to think outside those boxes to present people with a different point of view is good because it challenges people's way of thinking.

"My photographs portray that feeling and it is all part of the issue of destigmatising mental health." for all to see.

Another participant, Amy, was fascinated by the work of Tracey Emin's 'My Bed', which she feels illustrates her periods of depression.

"When I'm ill I can stay in my bed for days, weeks, months. Around me collects the debris of my activities and the waste of my consumption.

"Cig ends crawl out the ashtray and dirty knickers pool the floor. I hoard mementoes of happiness and escapism, which are rarely differentiated in my chaotic mind.

"My bed isn't for sleeping in, it becomes a place to live in. I can't rest in it but there's no way I'm getting out there.

"Sometimes a friend will come round and give me a gentle ticking and I'll agree 'yes, I know', and together we try to tidy it but I can't throw anything out. It's all loaded. "


The site also has a section for celebrities to 'hang' their photos. Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross chose 'Absinthe' by Degas.

"My grandmother was a silversmith and an artist - an immigrant to the UK who started a little firm called 'Fancycraft' which made beautiful handmade and hand-painted wooden toys and was selected to exhibit at the 1952 Festival of Britain.

"I have a treasured gift from her, a beautifully illustrated book called The Impressionists, and when I was an impressionable young boy I was captivated by the Degas called 'Absinth'e.

"I say impressionable because, not speaking French, I interpreted the caption as 'The Absence', and assumed the glum looking woman had been stood up by a would-be boyfriend.

"In fact the picture is a portrait of a couple who - as couples sometimes are - seem lost in their own thoughts. So this is a picture that made me sad when I was 7 or 8, and nowadays makes me grin."

Cliff Prior Rethink said the site was proving popular with the mentally ill. "All our research shows that art, in all its forms, is popular with our members and the people who use our services.

"The project name itself challenges people to rethink their prejudice, ignorance and fears about mental ill health."

Gill Hitchon, chief executive of Maca (Mental After Care Association) agreed: "We hope that this project will help people with mental health problems to have their creative voices heard, and challenge the fear, prejudice and stigma which too often faces them."

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