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Created Out of Mind: The Story

Prof Sebastian Crutch describes how Created Out of Mind came about to explore opportunities of bringing together work in the dementia and arts fields.
The beginning of Created Out of Mind was initially seeing the call from the Wellcome, who had created this space, the Hub, as a way of bringing together people who wouldn’t normally get the chance to work together. And particularly, given Wellcome’s interest in both sciences and the arts, it reminded me, I guess, of the work that we had previously done in the dementia and arts field, and the opportunity to bring together– not just in an ad hoc basis for short projects, or working with one artist to produce one particular piece of work– but really, to have the time to work with people living with different forms of dementia, to draw out and understand some of their experiences, and then to see the different ways in which scientists and artists reflected on those experiences, and might learn from them, and work together to explain them, to communicate them, and to stimulate further artistic and scientific research.
For me, a lot of the initial inspiration for this project actually occurred about 16, 17 years ago, when I had the privilege of working with the visual artist William Utermohlen. So Bill was an American British painter who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1995, and at that time he’d actually stopped painting. But one of my then colleagues– a lovely research nurse called Ron Isaacs– through conversation with him, through getting to know him, through relationship encouraged him, and expressed interest in seeing Bill’s paintings at the time.
And what he started creating were this extraordinary series of self-portraits over the next four or five years, which for many people, when they were published and shown in galleries around the world, I think really communicated something about the experience of living with a dementia, which no brain scan, or blood test, or graph could ever show people. It really embodied something about the changes that he was experiencing– and the uncertainties. And we argued– whether rightly or not– that those artworks also had the capacity not only to share something of the experience of the dementia, of living with the dementia, but also something of the biology of that condition, as well.
So we were particularly intrigued by how some of the spatial and perceptual aspects of Bill’s painting - you know where he located elements of the face, for example - changed over time. And of course, though, there were lots of questions about artistic interpretation, and so forth. But I really remember one occasion when just– you know, in our offices we asked Bill, with a piece of paper and pencil, to draw a man. And what he produced was infinitely more stylish than anything I could possibly create, which would be more like a stick man. He produced this flowing, beautiful image, almost as if– well, a guy with a jacket, and a tie.
And really, really characterful, but Bill paused at the end and he said, “No, there’s something wrong with that, I can’t….” But he couldn’t work out what was wrong. And actually, he’d drawn both arms protruding from the same shoulder socket. So it was an example for me of where his artistic style and intent came through, but also, there is evidence of the changes which he was having to battle with. The tools he was losing. And I think that really piqued my interest in the capacity of the arts to communicate both experience and biology.

Watch Prof Sebastian Crutch describe how the Created Out of Mind project came about to explore opportunities of bringing together work in the dementia and the arts field. In this video you will:

  • Be introduced to the idea of working with people living with a dementia to draw out their own experiences of their conditions, and how this can stimulate further (artistic as well as scientific) work and research.

  • Learn about the original inspiration of working with William Utermohlen.

  • Hear why the arts are a powerful tool for helping to communicate both the experience and biology of a dementia.

CREDITS We would like to extend a special thank you to the following individuals and organisations for providing supplementary footage and images for this video: * Wellcome Collection * Chris Boïcos Fine Arts, Paris * Dementia Research Centre
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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