CHARACTERISTICS OF ART EXPRESSION IN DEPRESSION


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Abstract

Despite the prevalence of the syndrome of depression, there are few observations in the literature on the art expressions of depressed patients compared with an abundance of data on schizophrenic art. Where observations appear, there is not evidence of systematic investigation. This study is an attempt to delineate characteristics of depressive art expression tested by a blind rating procedure.The sample studied is composed of pictures produced by 10 hospitalized depressed patients. Pictures made on days when depression was high are compared with pictures produced by the same patients when depression was low. Patients served as their own controls in order to eliminate variables of artistic ability and experience, intelligence, age, etc. Blind raters compared the pictures for characteristics hypothesized to be associated with depression.The results indicated that during increased depression, patients' pictures revealed less color used, more empty space, less investment of effort or less complete, and more depressive affect or less affect than when less depressed. Though not of statistical significance, there was a trend toward the pictures being more constricted and more meaningless than when less depressed. The hypothesis that they would also be more disorganized was not supported.Examples of three of the pairs studied are illustrated, along with descriptions of the patients' appearance and behavior at the art therapy sessions at which they were produced. The rating results for each of these pairs are discussed.The discrepancies between the findings reported here and elsewhere appear to be due to two variables in particular: a difference in the setting giving rise to a different sort of population of depressed patients who made pictures; and a different manner of investigation, i.e., a blind methodology as opposed to generalized impressions.In conclusion, the qualities found in this study to be characteristic of pictures produced during depression seem to be the result of a paucity of pictorial development which is congruent with the total image of the severely depressed individual.

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