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Clara Lieu: Creating Art On Depression – What People Don’t Talk About

Depression impacts many people, including artists.

A fairly long list of visual artists who died by suicide includes photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971), painters Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and possibly Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).

From listing: Artists Who Committed Suicide.

Creating art can be a powerful way to deal with depression and other mental health challenges.

Artist Marlene Azoulai says she was “first introduced to Art Therapy while in a psychiatric institution. There, I learned that when there are no words, there can be pictures. I learned that an artist is not necessarily someone who has studied art, but one who has something to say, and the courage to say it.

“I learned that an artist is someone who makes art to save her life.”

Therapist Natalie Rogers says that “using the expressive arts gives people a safe place to explore their shadow side… The shadow is the part we have repressed in our lives. Some people have denied their anger and rage for a lifetime.”

From my post Creative Expression and Healing.

“The work talks about what people don’t talk about – what people are afraid to say.”

That is a quote by Clara Lieu, a visual artist and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design; she is referring to her projects, especially “Falling” – a series of fifty self-portrait drawings that visually represent her personal experience with depression and anxiety.

In a magazine interview, she noted that she’s lived with depression since early childhood, at the age of ten. “I didn’t even know I had it. I figured it was just the way life was, and I would have to put up with it.

“When I was diagnosed with it last year, it was the shock of seeing myself clearly for the first time. Since I’ve been treated, I’ve been able to separate myself from the disease. ‘Falling’ is about that experience, about being out of control emotionally, physically, and learning how to separate myself from the disease.”

Asked if she ever regrets sharing such personal experiences with the world, she replied, “No, once I made the decision to make that work, I had to accept that it would be part of the project. Before I started the project, I was really worried and thought, am I really going to do this?

“I decided in the end that I really had to do this. It was part of the project. Falling is a metaphorical gesture. One day everything is fine. Then suddenly you’re falling and falling and it never really ends. I’m not doing drawings of figures that are really falling, but it’s the idea of falling.”

She also commented, “My work has never been about showing that everything’s okay.”

From article “Profile: Clara Lieu” by Lois Tarlow, Art New England, Sept./Oct. 2011 (posted on her artist site

Clara Lieu: Artist/Professor from Clara Lieu on Vimeo.

Fueling the creative drive

In another interview, Lieu said, “The most influential part of my past has been my personal experience with depression and anxiety, which fueled the creative drive behind the ‘Falling’ series.

“Being diagnosed and treated just a few years ago… It was startling to see myself clearly for the first time, free from the disease. Only at that point did I have the emotional distance that allowed me to to be in position to address this subject artistically. I knew at that point that I felt an uncontrollable drive and compulsion to make the work.”

She notes, “Depression is something that happens privately, behind closed doors; it’s a secret that most people keep hidden and never talk about in public. Unfortunately there’s still a social stigma associated with depression that causes people with depression to conceal their true emotions from others.

“On a broader level, I’m looking to open a dialogue about a topic that is rarely discussed openly by exposing my own personal experience.”

From Interview with Clara Lieu by Iniye James, Rough Magazine, 09/18/12.

Top photo: from her Pinterest site, where you can see many examples of her work.

Video and lower image – Self-Portrait No. 10 – from her main artist site

Book: Falling, by Clara Lieu.

For more perspectives and resources, see my site Depression and Creativity.


Clara Lieu: Creating Art On Depression – What People Don’t Talk About

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Clara Lieu: Creating Art On Depression – What People Don’t Talk About. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2012
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