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Larisa Glushtrom

Ethics and Aesthetics:  Art Therapist in the Role of a  Curator  Exhibiting Artworks from the Living Museum

         The Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, NY, has, for over twenty years, provided an opportunity for people with mental illness to involve themselves seriously with art making on a daily basis. The result is the creation of striking works of astonishing intensity, originality, and beauty. The Living Museum artists have the unique opportunity to create in a warm and supportive environment where uncensored artistic expression is received with respect and admiration.  Many of the artists have benefited greatly from the opportunity of devoting themselves full-time to art.

            This project evolved from a summer internship at the Living Museum. Working there was an opportunity to get to know some of the artists and to see their body of work grow and develop. Despite numerous publications, many outside of New York are unfamiliar with the Living Museum. That is how the idea of organizing an exhibit in Chicago was born. Living Museum artists hardly differ from other artists, except perhaps that their works might be more lively and unselfconscious, as they have the ability to work without inhibitions or filters. “There’s no pretense whatsoever. These artists have a higher purpose: they do it solely for the necessity to communicate,” said the director of the Living Museum, Dr. Marton.  The goal of this exhibit was to try to capture the fullness and richness of the Living Museum’s environment, the diversity of the styles, and to give viewers an opportunity to be able to get to know the artists and in the process create a dialog. Ultimately it might help reduce the stigma associated with psychiatric disabilities.

            Before the 1980s, art by people with mental illness was rarely collected and exhibited in the United States. Yet, it has been a part of the European art world since the beginning of the last century when psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn put together a collection of 6,000 artworks by isolated mental patients.  After 1985, when selections from the Prinzhorn collection traveled to the U.S., art by people with mental illness has begun to enter the mainstream of the American art world through exhibitions in established galleries. Founded twenty-two years ago, the Living Museum is one of the first large collections of artwork by people with mental illness in this country.

             Although this thesis begins with a discussion of exhibiting artworks, the ultimate focus is on how art, its production, and exhibition shape a wide range of identities in the context of the Living Museum. The compatibility and conflict between the many and shifting roles one faces when working in the environment like the Living Museum is examined. Details on the organizing, evaluating, and documenting such events constitute the method of this thesis.  The issues regarding exhibiting the artworks, shifting roles, and implications for art therapy in other settings are discussed.  

            A visit to the Living Museum provided the impetus for organizing an exhibition in Chicago. Inspired by the intensity, variety, and originality of artworks; the aim was to combat negative attitudes toward people with mental illness, recognizing their artist identity and the value of their work. 


           Larisa Glushtrom received her BA in Psychology and Studio Art from the University of California, Davis, in 2002. While at SAIC, she received clinical training at Easter Seals Therapeutic Day School (autistic children), Pathways Home (dual diagnosis clients), Gallery 37 Project Onward (special needs artists), and at the Living Museum.


Thesis Advisor: Randy M. Vick, Associate Professor, Chair, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Dr. Janos Marton, Director of the Living Museum



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