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The Research for The Invisible Disease MA Drawing Minmin Lu


The Invisible Disease was inspired by a drawing project from an artist named Judith Alder. In the drawing work called SPREAD: An Unhealthy Obsession 1 Judith depicted the chaos of uncontrolled and unwanted growthswhich was the first time I started to think about the issue of mental diseases. According to a survey entitled An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S Adults Report Depression,2 9.1% of Americans have suffered from mental disorders and 4.1% of them have reached the criteria of major depression. The survey also showed that women are the main victims of the disease, which indicated female is more fragile than male in the mental area.

The title was based on the situations what I mentioned above. The meaning of the invisible disease was defined in this article as a kind of mental malady would badly affect human thoughts in an unconscious way. People who have a proclivity towards pessimism may be the largest group sustains the misery of the invisible disease. This is an essay to talk about human in a particular statement, the reasons of mental illness and how artists performed the theme as a way of self-expression are the main parts included in the content, examples of my personal drawing are also involved in this article as well.

Judith Alder, SPREAD: An Unhealthy Obsession, hard back handmade artists book, biro on paper, 21x 31 cm, The Jerwood Drawing Prize 2012, visited 13 October, 2012 <http://www.judithalder-live.co.uk/spread_unhealthy-obs.html> (accessed 10 November 2012) 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression, last updated on 31 March, 2011 < http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/index.html> (accessed 25 December 2012)

Investigation of Mental Disorders

Definition of Mental Disease

Generally speaking, mental disease is a kind of disorder exists in humans spirit. In other words it should be recognized as mental disability, which means people cannot control their thoughts then reflect it throughout their behaviors.

Species of Mental Disease

DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)3 and ICD (The International Classification of Diseases)

are two commonly used criteria documents

that give the definitions of those mental diseases. The psychologists and psychiatrics have given diagnoses for over four hundred different disorders into the categories.

Following the category, several familiar mental disorders were considered as a leading clue for my personal drawing practice, for example, anorexia, bipolar disorder, vigilance and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Causes and Symptoms

There were several factors could cause the mental disorders showed in Wikipedia.5 Such as gene, childhood experience, social environment, etc. Personally I separated them into two categoriesthe internal causes and the external causes. The internal

Wikipedia contributors, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 December 2012, 15:44 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disorders> (accessed 27 December 2012) 4 Wikipedia contributors, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 December 2012, 17:38 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Statistical_Classification_of_Diseases_and_Related_Health_Pro blems> (accessed 27 December 2012) 5 Wikipedia contributors, Causes of Mental Disorders, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 October 2012, 23:25 UTC, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_mental_disorders> (accessed 28 December 2012)

causes include gene and personal characteristics, disease, infection or serious injury, sometimes the factor of pregnancy and birth also involve in this category. And the external causes are most of social elements, e.g. society and culture, life events, interpersonal relationship and so on. Basically, these two factors influenced each other in an intense way, say once a man had underwent the horrible car accident then got a badly spinal injury, then he might fall into the slough then became a major depression patient. However, no matter what is the main factor causes the mental disease, it is essential to realize that people suffered from those threats are painfuldepressive and sometimes capricious. Sometimes the patients pretend they are normal persons but by watching their behaviors it is easy to notice the contradiction they made. What the project interested in is the part of struggle that was caused by two distinct aspects inside main characters.

The symptoms and signs are varied depend on different types of mental disorders. Nevertheless, many mental disorders still have something in common, like negative thinking, lifestyle changes, sleeplessness, etc. On the book The Meaning of Madness Neel Burton said: The symptoms of clinical depression are often divided into three groups: core symptoms, psychological symptoms, and somatic (or physical) symptoms. (2008 pp.86) There are three elements to define if a person has the feature of depression in the group called core symptoms, and the elements are low mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and fatigability.6 Neel also mentioned the different levels of depression, like mild depression, moderate depression and severe depression, and in each level the circumstance of the patient would be changed remarkably.

Neel Burton, The Meaning of Madness (UK, Acheron Press, 1 Edition, 20 October 2008) pp.86.

No matter which stage the patient has cooped up, it is significant to verify the symptoms of the disorder. Mental disease is not just only a disease inside the world of spirit, but also a fellow of other physical diseases. AS a professor of the Institute of Psychiatry which located in London, David Goldberg have showed the evidence between chronic physical illnesses and mental illnesses, according to his report, patients who drew into chronic physical diseases have run nearly three times faster than normal people to get the mental diseases, especially depression. In addition, mental illnesses could cause several physical maladies, e.g. insomniahypertension, or even cancer. Therefore, the influence caused by mental disorders should be highly concerned. Famous Examples Lots of evidence given by specialists had showed there is a connection between several mental disorders and creativity. Even in most cases people might consider that mental illnesses are harmful to human themselves, however, many perspectives still recognized this kind of sickness has a positive impact on artists. Like Adrienne Sussman mentioned in her article Mental Illness and Creativity: A Neurological View of the Tortured Artist : If mental illness can produce powerful and important art, then perhaps, instead of trying to eliminate them by medication, we should embrace these mental states as valuable in their own right. (Stanford Journal of Neuroscience, Volume 1, Issue 1 Fall 2007, pp.21) The influence of mental disorders has so many patterns in the fine art province. Vincent van Gogh is absolutely earned the title of talented painter and famous for his personal life timeline. As a typical case for mental disease he was examined by hundreds of psychologists and psychiatrists for many years. The experts finally came

to the conclusion that Vincent might suffer from several mental diseases, like bipolar disorder (in other words, manic-depression), temporal lobe epilepsy (he was born with brain lesion) or lead poisoning (Vincent used lead based paint for his paintings) .7 The other famous painter, Edvard Munch, described himself as a ship without a rudder if he was not accompanied by anxiety and illness.8 He never married and lived alone with his art works, what he called it my children, when he died in 1944 the officials came into his estate then found over twenty thousand pieces of work across different crafts of making. My favorite Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, is another typical case for mental illness. She described herself is a obsessive artist.

Not just in the area of fine art, researchers also have gained the examples from other professions of art, for instance, musicians, composers, writers, designers or poets. Robert Schumann, a celebrated composer in late Romantic era, now has been commonly believed as a severe depressive patient. Other examples like Ernest Miller Hemingway Lord Byron Virginia Woolfthey are all in the club of mental disorder. However, like old saying goes, each coin has two sides. Some of these notables obtained the nutrient from the sicknesses, while some died of it.

Personal Practice and Influence

At the end of unit one, students of MA Drawing had set up an exhibition of their drawing works in the new drawing centre. In this exhibition I have showed my practice work, which drew a mans head surrounding by some patterns inspired by cells image (see fig.1). I am trying to describe person with expressionless face, and wish somebody would touch the feeling about depression in this drawing. Also, I have burned the edge of paper to make some changes of it, because I want to express the sense of fear, nervous and anxiety. However I did not go further in this drawing, it is

Anonymous writer, Van Goghs Mental and Physical Health, Van Gogh Gallery, < http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/mental.html > (accessed 26 December 2012) 8 Arthur Lubow, Edvard Munch: Beyond The Scream, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2006, < http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/munch.html?c=y&page=1 > (accessed 27 December 2012)

too hard to control effects.

fig. 1 practice drawing for depression, December 2012

I have noticed an Chinese artist named Cai Guo-Qiang (or Guoqiang Cai in English) since 2008, he has been engaged in the study of fireworks for many decades, and he have took the advantage of diverse materials into his work, including gunpowder for drawing. Then after I saw his drawing called Seagull: A Clan of Boats (fig.2) and Peony in Full Bloom (fig.3),9 The different strengths were made by gunpowder (and he have to burn the gunpowder first), finally the main object on those pictures seems so gentle and psychedelic.

Cai Guo-Qiang , Seagull: A Clan of Boats, gunpowder on drawing, 201.5x305.5 cm, 2012 < http://www.caiguoqiang.com/projects/seagull > Peony in Full Bloom, gunpowder on drawing and mounted on three wooden panels, 225 x 190cm, 2012 < http://www.caiguoqiang.com/projects/peony-full-bloom > (accessed 28 December 2012)

fig. 2 Seagull2012

fig. 3 Peony in Full Bloom, 2012

After viewing his drawings, I was thinking about experiment on paper burning. In my opinion, the burning marks could express the mind-set of depressive patient. The main character is desperate, surrounding by these dark marks, which looks like a sign of disaster.

But there is an essential question that I asked myself for many times. Due to drawing is a form of visual communication, then, how to express the theme The Invisible Disease? In other words, how to translate the invisible to visible?

The way of drawing for invisible disease is to emphasize on the visible yet odd (compare with common situations) physical part in main target. For example, I emphasized on the shape to represent extreme emaciation.

In a draft drawing I made for anorexia recently (fig.4), I have concerntrated on the body figure of that female (honestly I utilized Klimts style) to performance the sense of immoderate food restriction.10 As the figure shows below, the shape of females body has been strengthened, and because I am interested in fashion illustration, so I added elements into that draft drawing.

fig. 4 draft portrait for anorexia in Klimt style, December 2012


Wikipedia contributors, Anorexia nervosa, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 December 2012, 02:01 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anorexia_nervosa> (accessed 29 December 2012)


Gustav Klimt has a great influence on many drawers, because his drawing style accurately recorded the shape of human body, not only for females on different stages, but also males on different positions.

Juul Kraijer is another artist who gives me passion to fulfill the drawing. I knew him from the book then I checked his details online most of the drawing he made was and a mixture of abstract concept and concrete target (fig. 5).11

fig. 5 Untitled, 2005

Juul also spent his time on other forms of making work, e.g. sculpture and photograph. In drawing area, he used crayon, charcoal and ink most of the time. By portraying human figures Juul adopts a hazy way on brushwork, so it is a little bit hard to recognize the facial expression of the character.

I used pencil or propelling pencil in most situations, however sometimes I used water

Juul Kraijer, Untitled, charcoal and watercolor on paper, 125x125 cm, 2005


color as well. Recently I am exploring other tools to make drawings, like ink (fig. 6).

fig. 6, Anorexia, December 2012

In the drawing Anorexia I utilized ink, and this is my first time to use this tool. To be honest, comparing with watercolor I consider that is a harder tool to control, however I still got some experiences on ink drawing, like if I use the biggest brush to wet the paper first then it will make further ink drawing easier to be controlled. The outline of the female had been strengthened in the end, and then I protruded the clavicle by using darker ink.



Owing to physical illness is easy to examine, and mental illness is so enigmatic that sometimes even the great doctor cannot diagnosis himself/herself. The study of mental disease is an essential topic to arouse viewers from concerning about their mental health. Contradiction would be the core interest inside the content, like famous examples what I wrote in the article. Reading stories about mental disorders is a way to communicate myself, to ask myself what I could do for drawing of this subject.

When I am drawing something I am pretending myself as a sick person. And also I am trying to understand the state of those patients, sometimes the struggle is pushing me forward and backward, and that is a really interesting experience. I have tried some different tools to draw, and some of them are hard to control, however it could be a new way to explore.



Burton, Neel, The Meaning of Madness, Acheron Press, 1 edition, 20 October 2008 Cornelia Butler, Afterimage: Drawing Through Process, The MIT Press, 28 May 1999 Ian Berry and Jack Shear (Author), J. Berger, J. Fisher and S. Santacatterina (Contributor), Twice Drawn: Modern and Contemporary Drawings in Context, Prestel, 13 December 2011 Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Alfred A. Knopf, 1st edition, September 1995 Marian Bisanz-Prakken, Gustav Klimt: The Drawings, the Albertina Museum, Vienna, March 2012 Wayne Enstice and Melody Peters, Drawing: Space, Form, and Expression, Pearson, 4th edition, 31 July 2011 Further Reading Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, Oxford Paperbacks, New Ed edition, 28 January 1988 Sontag, Susan, Illness as Metaphor, Penguin Classics, 3 July 2009 Online Resources

Anonymous writer, Byron Was Severely Anorexic, Report (1998) <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/byron-was-severely-anorexic-1176779.html> Anonymous writer, The Invisible Disease Depression, 28 November 2003 < http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/depress/a/blnimh15.htm > Domschke, Katharina, Robert Schumanns Contribution to the Genetics of PsychosisPsychiatry in Music, Journal (2010) <http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/196/4/325> Mayo Clinic staff, Mental Illness, Mayo Clinic, Website, 15 September 2012 < http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mental-illness/DS01104 >


Wikipedia contributors, Hypertension, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 December 2012, 06:35 UTC <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertension> Wikipedia contributors, Mental Disorder, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 January 2013, 18:35 UTC <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder>