The Experience of Visual Artists in Western Culture

Visual artists and other creative people face many stereotypes that have been prevalent in Western Culture for centuries. It has been posited that artists are prone to mental illness, or are creative because of mental illness. In the more recent past, studies have compared creative thinking and personality to “normal” thinking and personality. To better understand how this cultural perception of “differentness” affects the visual artist, three self-identified artists were interviewed, and those interviews were analyzed with thematic analysis, a qualitative research method. The results of the analysis consisted of four major themes and 17 subthemes that describe the experience of being a visual artist in western culture. The four major themes are: Theme 1: Experiences of feeling or perceiving self as different from others; Theme 2: Making choices about behavior, daily living, and earning money based on the need for individuation over the need for belonging; Theme 3: Being influenced or impacted by external sources such as other people or circumstances and Theme 4: Internal experiences related to being an artist. These findings are discussed from an Adlerian perspective, as are the implications for mental health professionals and suggestions for future research.

Bambi Johnson
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