Guest blog: Art, mental health, and giving together

“How tragic but resilient human life is,” my grandmother said sleepily, speaking on the phone from the chipped door of the downstairs cafeteria of her apartment complex.

I had just sent him one of my most recent works of art: a self-portrait called “Clouds Disperse Easily.” I had waited for her to misunderstand me or praise me emptyly, seeing only the colors but not the underlying feelings. But she saw through me.

My grandmother, who years earlier was diagnosed with major depression, was the first person in my family to blatantly seek treatment. When I almost gave up on my own bipolar diagnosis, it was her example that convinced me to give healing one more chance. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that a conceptual photograph I created by placing my pain in puddles of dizzying neon was so clearly understood, if not by anyone else, then at least by her.

In difficult times, art was a treasure chest that I didn’t want – I didn’t have to – open alone. A drawer in the corner of the closet where I kept all my messy feelings; a golden relic adorned with fake jewels that I place for others to admire. It changed shape to hide and show what I wanted. It was a way to process my feelings peacefully, externally. Screaming my pain as I furiously rubbed it with a badge to downplay its meaning, I squeezed my eyes shut hoping someone would take off my top to prove the loneliness beneath wrong. And someone, my grandmother or whoever, always did.

Art is a way to heal, not because it promises relief, but because it promises liberation. An exhalation of the feelings we cannot unravel within ourselves, expressed in paint, existing defiantly, proudly, because whatever it is, it is enough as it is. Whoever we are is enough. Just as art is.

To me, this is what makes art so integral to mental health. It allows us to pave our own path to understanding, at our own pace, with our own palettes. But it also invites others to join us on the path, so that even if we are alone at first, at least the path is illuminated.

When I found out about the mission behind The donation gallery, I knew that contributing was a no-brainer. A way to share art while donating to mental health charities like Mental Health America. What better way to honor all that art has been to me? Appreciate everything that art has been and will be for someone else?

Artists, share your work with The Giving Gallery: let us heal with you. Art lovers, explore The Giving Gallery – let us learn alongside you. Art is many things, but perhaps what it is most is that chipped door of a coffee shop where it unceremoniously houses all our loves and dislikes in one place, sometimes side by side, sometimes in isolated corners, promising an indulgent and curiously, wonderfully shared moment of humanity.

Diana Chao is a Donation Gallery Artist. and the founder of Letters to strangers, a global mental health organization by youth for youth. She is part of 2023-2024. MHA Young Leaders Council. Previously part of Adobe’s inaugural Global Top Talent cohort, his photography has appeared in Vogue Italia, Redbubble, Adobe MAX and more.

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