December 13, 2021

Celebrating the Health and Creativity of Artists with Bipolar

A Q&A with Stephanie Prechter, Curator of ENERGY: Brain Health Arts

Stephanie Prechter
BSBA, Georgetown University
AAS in Photography,
Washtenaw Community College
MFA Candidate, fall 2024, Maine Media College

ENERGY: Brain Health Arts is centered around the power of art as a part of the process in healing and recovery with a focus on the bipolar diagnosis. Creatives explore the concept of energy and the impact of artistic expression on their overall brain health.

The artists featured in this collection are also participants in the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program’s Longitudinal Study at the University of Michigan.

This year’s collection is the second year for ENERGY and entirely virtual. Our first year was a collaboration with Metropolitan Museum of Design Detroit and Collected Detroit. We initially planned on a physical exhibit, but given the circumstances around COVID, plans changed.

What inspired you to put together this exhibit?

The driving force of inspiration is my experience with the bipolar diagnosis and the critical role the arts have played throughout my journey. Having the arts as an outlet has enhanced my concepts of self-awareness, compassion, and resilience. I figured that if it did that for me, then I’d be curious to see how other artists with this diagnosis feel.

It seemed like a natural fit to partner with Prechter Bipolar Research and recruit participants from the study to join this initiative. The research is filled with people coming from a vast array of perspective and experience. It’s inspiring for me to channel our collective energy and highlight the ways in which we’ve been able to navigate through life’s twists and turns.

Can you explain the importance of art as a way to help people with bipolar?

I can share my experience with photography and the way in which the highlights and shadows in every image serve as a range of emotion. Making pictures empowers me to reframe my reality and gives me agency to create meditative landscapes. That becomes my focus and influences my mood state in a positive way. It also addresses the entire gamut of human experience, making me curious about every bit of it with the urge to embrace the highs and the lows.

In more general terms, art encourages imagination and stimulates neuropathways to take a different route. The act of art making solicits open-mindedness and curiosity thereby freeing us from hazardous conditioning and giving way to new ways of thinking. I believe the arts to be a key to unlocking the world around us.

The function of art is an extension of the function of the brain; the seeking of knowledge in an ever-changing world. —Semir Zeki

What has the experience of working with the featured artists been like for you?

For the most part, it was a fun experience! I think it helped for us to meet via zoom and have a chance to get to know each other. It was a bit more challenging given that everything was virtual. I especially enjoyed hearing about the wide range of work and the mediums used and I think it helped for the artists to meet each other and share their stories.

The challenging part for me was the fact that I put a ton of pressure on myself to present the work and the artists in the best way possible. This work means a great deal to me and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the nature of it.

What did you learn from the artists? 

I learned a great deal from the 11 artists involved, namely that we all have our own unique way as to how we process the world around us and that art allows for us to channel beauty and power in the face of adversity. I’m impressed by the artists’ ability to transform pain and struggle into creative expression and inspiration.

It was especially refreshing to see the artists relate with each other and feel as if they have a shared experience in their relationship with the arts. All of them consider this to be a lifeline giving them a toolbox to draw from.

What was the experience of doing this exhibit virtually like?

The virtual format has its costs and benefits. I prefer to have a physical space with the work because it offers a tangible experience for the audience and it gives the artists a chance to interact with viewers opening up opportunities for conversations and connection.

The major benefit with going virtual is the amount of people we were able to reach geographically. It makes sense for us to entertain a hybrid model as we move forward.

What do you hope people will take away from ENERGY: Brain Health Arts?

At the very least, I hope people walk away from the experience with a deeper appreciation for the arts and the urge to incorporate creativity in their every day.

I encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and explore the arts on their own terms. Take time with it and give it space. It may help to start out small. Pick up a journal and start writing, visit a museum and do some research on an artist, dive into a conversation related to brain health and the arts, explore different mediums, strike a balance between analog and digital, and again go at your own pace with it. The idea is that this will spark a fire within. It will become habit and you will see the arts as a part of your wellness.

I also hope that this work encourages research in the arts! It is critical for us to integrate forms of creative expression as a way to better understand ourselves and each other and give the arts the weight they deserve.

Do you plan to do another exhibit next year?

I am taking some time to think about next steps, but my hope is that we can coordinate a physical exhibit and continue our partnership with Prechter Bipolar Research to further integrate the arts.

For now, the current exhibit will be on view at: www.energybrainhealtharts.com

Please take time to visit, thank you for your interest, and keep the energy moving!