From Van Gough to Tracey Emin, art has always been a medium suited to expressing the things we struggle to get into words

David Shillinglaw

'Mindfulmess' by David Shillinglaw

Mental health is not always an easy thing to open up about and, for some, art is a means to communicate difficult, complex thoughts and feelings. For others, identifying with the themes and confessions expressed in a piece of art can help them come to terms with their own struggles.

Art is ever evolving, and in this digital era artists are finding yet more creative, innovative ways to express themselves using new technology and platforms.

Canvas is an Arts Council Funded initiative to make art more accessible and appealing to young people. They hope that by bringing it out of old institutions and into the digital arena, they will be able to inspire a new generation to enjoy and make art. After launching their YouTube channel in 2015, Canvas have collaborated with artists, performers and organisations across the UK and their content includes spoken word poetry, experimental music, physical theatre and contemporary dance.

David Shillinglaw

Whilst the topics addressed vary from video to video, they all centre around issues that matter to young people.

Depression and anxiety in teenagers has increased by 70% over the past 25 years, and the number of young people going to A&E for reasons relating to mental health has more than doubled since 2009. Canvas’ latest films addressing mental health are therefore a very welcomed addition to the conversation tackling the stigma.

'Elephant in the Room' by Lanre Malaolu

An incredibly powerful, and beautifully choreographed film by Protocol Dance Company’s Lanre Malaolu. The film explores the troubled mind of a man struggling with his mental health.

The refrain, “big man don’t feel them things, just go to the gym” perfectly captures the pressures and stigma that young men face when speaking out about mental health.

Speaking about his film, Lanre said, "I guess the elephant in the room represents the ability to speak about something that is clearly in our society: mental illness. It also just highlights the banality of some of these things. Not being able to get out of bed."

He continued, "I don’t think I’m making the piece to heal people, I’m making the piece for awareness. To normalise it and to not think of it as this abstract idea. That’s what I want people to take from this piece.”

'Mindfulmess' by David Shillinglaw

In this visually striking film, acclaimed artist, David Shillinglaw, showcases himself creating a mural; a literal representation of some of the mental processes that David confronts both as an individual and as an artist.

David's work can be found on the faces of buildings in Shoredich, as well as hung on the walls of the white cube. Consistent throughout his artwork, emotive keywords act as "mental bubbles" that convey feelings and memories.

Both the music in this film and the vibrant colours of David’s work are juxtaposed dramatically with the unsettling issues that his art raises and it is his mission to use his art as a means to initiate discussion about important, but often avoided, topics.

With one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem in our lifetime, conversations like the ones started in these videos are vital for progress in the way that we talk, and think, about mental health. Whether it's performing, painting, or even just keeping a private journal, expressing yourself in a medium that feels comfortable to you can be an invaluable method of understanding and communicating the things that are happening in your mind.


To find out more about Canvas, visit their website and subscribe to their YouTube channel.