Art's role in mental health is nothing new

April 11, 2022


Art and creativity’s role in mental health and wellbeing is nothing new. As Stephen Sondheim said: “art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.”

In its new exhibition Salutary Sculpture, Laumeier Sculpture Park has embraced the concept of healing through art. The group show, which opened on 12 February, brings together eight artists who explore art’s capacity as a therapeutic tool through their own personal lens.

Curator and Laumeier Park’s Executive Director, Lauren Ross, says that she and Co-curator Dana Turkovic had been thinking about the theme for some time, with the pandemic making it more relevant than ever. “In the spirit of looking at things broadly,” says Ross, “the exhibition really addresses healing, recovery and wellness from both a physical and mental perspective.”

“Many of the artists in the exhibition came to their artmaking through their own process of healing and recovery,” she adds, “from literal physical injury in some cases, and in other cases illness or emotional trauma.” However, the curators didn’t want to make an obvious distinction between physical and mental health, instead recognizing the intrinsic connection between them.

James Sterling Pitt’s work is a fascinating example of what Ross describes. Losing a majority of his memories to a traumatic brain injury around 14 years ago, Sterling Pitt turned to his drawing practice to aid the lifelong process of recovering specific memories. 

“It could be a shape, a color, or a texture for him that evokes memories of something like the light on the Pacific ocean during a visit to the beach,” says Ross. “The connections to his memories may not be immediately apparent to the viewer–they appear to be much more abstract than that–but they’ve changed his art practice and these drawings became studies for his sculpture that we’re exhibiting here.”

Co-curator Dana Turkovic adds, “We hope visitors will find inspiration in how these artists use their creativity as a way to heal the body and mind and as a process to work through individual—and sometimes societal— trauma and tackle adversity.” 

“We’re in  such a unique position at Laumeier to help promote well-being through art and through nature.” Turkovic continues. “The artists assembled here address a range of personal experiences and research interests, and each artwork in the exhibition reveals the power of art as a therapeutic tool.”

“It has always been my belief that people come to the park in a different mental state than they bring when they go to an art museum,” says Ross, of the unique setting of the park’s 140-acres in the heart of St. Louis County. “It really makes people more relaxed and open-minded and curious. I hope it helps people enter a gallery or museum with that same curiosity and acceptance.

The health and wellness themes of Salutary Sculpture extend throughout its programming for 2022, including programs led by Laumeier’s 2022 Cultural Thinker In Residence, Shelly Goebl-Parker. 

“We’re working with our education team to plan a series of public programs for all ages, from a clay class for kids to make objects inspired by things in the exhibition, to a special panel talking about art and neurodiversity.” says Ross. “That one will be held over Zoom to make it as accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and will feature some of the artists talking about their work alongside a neurobiologist.”

“We’re a small operation,” says Ross, “but I like to think we punch above our weight in terms of our offerings. We’re really excited about these programs we’re going to roll out and how they’re going to make this a welcoming and accessible place for everyone.”

Salutary Sculpture, co-curated by Laumeier Executive Director Lauren Ross and Curator Dana Turkovic, runs from February 12 until May 15, 2022 at the Aronson Fine Arts Center. For more information on the exhibition and the public educational programs that are part of it, go to

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