Art as Therapy: Top 10 Quotes From Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo and More

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Louise Bourgeois Drawings Hauser and Wirth
Louise Bourgeois working on a spiral drawing in her home on West 20th Street, New York, 1970© The Easton Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Here, marking Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we present a selection of quotations from seminal artists on the healing power of making art

Artists are often asked what inspires them; what sparks a bout of creativity. The answer, though, might not be a case of wanting to create, but needing to – when making art becomes an act of therapy, or catharsis. Prolific artists like Louise Bourgeois (whose drawings were recently showcased in an online exhibition from Hauser & Wirth), Frida KahloTracey Emin and David Wojnarowicz, working across a variety of media, have cited the benefits of art as a means of working through thoughts and feelings – whether anxiety, depression, loneliness or frustration. Drawing out such positives from moments of creativity feels pertinent and valuable as we find ourselves in the midst of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders around the world, having to carve out a new sense of normal in the face of isolation. Here, marking Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we present a selection of quotations from artists who have used their work to temper negativities and create in crisis.

  1. “I know that when I finish a drawing, my anxiety level decreases. When I draw it means that something bothers me, but I don’t know what it is. So it is the treatment of anxiety.” Louise Bourgeois
  2. “Since I was a young girl I wanted to make art. My hope in art is to spread the joy and the love of being human. I think a lot about what it means to be an artist in the world today. It is a time of much turmoil and strife. And yet, we can see light all around us.” Yayoi Kusama
  3. “Each time you take a good picture, you have the wonderful feeling of exhilaration ... and almost instantly, the flip side. You have this terrible, terrible anxiety that you’ve just taken your last good picture.” Sally Mann
  4. “For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art. Without anxiety and illness I should have been like a ship without a rudder.” Edvard Munch
  5. “Work is good. If I don’t make things, I become ill and depressed. Painting makes me feel like a better human being. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” Tracey Emin
  6. “Each time I would do a performance, I would use it as a tool to actually deal with my emotions, to stage my feelings, and to go through the things I was afraid of. Doing this in front of an audience was so incredibly rewarding that I will never go back to any other medium like painting or sculpture. Performance went far deeper, it was a guided communication with the public … I found that showing vulnerability, that is the greatest thing ever.” Marina Abramović
  7. “When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” Mark Rothko
  8. “Art is the greatest asset to mental health I have; it has this amazing ability to go under the radar and it goes down little pathways which are un-trodden and yet it’s still a very legitimate way of thinking and feeling and getting on with your life.” Grayson Perry 
  9. “Over the years, I’ve periodically found myself in situations that felt desperate and, in those moments, I’d feel that I needed to make certain things.” David Wojnarowicz
  10. “Painting completed my life. I lost three children and a series of other things that would have fulfilled my horrible life. My painting took the place of all of this. I think work is the best.” Frida Kahlo