Starting Jan. 30, Kent State University’s School of Visual Communication Design will host a month-long retrospective of former assistant professor Christopher Darling, who died in June 2018.
Darling was active in the Northeast Ohio arts scene, creating murals and more with a focus on social justice issues, and he struggled with bipolar disorder throughout his life.
After the show’s opening from 4 to 7 p.m. at Taylor Hall Gallery in Kent, psychologist and author Kay Redfield Jamison will give a talk about mental health and the arts, “Touched with Fire,” starting at 7 in 306 Cartwright Hall. Jamison is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist specializing in bipolar disorder and author of several books on mental health and the arts including her memoir “An Unquiet Mind,” detailing her own struggles with mood disorders.
Douglas Goldsmith teaches illustration as an assistant professor in the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent and has been an instructor since 1988. He worked with Darling and discussed with Canvas the Darling retrospective, the upcoming talk by Jamison and why the two pair well together.
Tell me about the university’s decision to bring in Kay Redfield Jamison in conjunction with the late Christopher Darling’s exhibition? Why did it make sense to pair the two?
When we in the school began discussing hosting a retrospective of our colleague Christopher Darling’s work, Christopher’s family brought Dr. Jamison to our attention. They found her work to be very sympathetic to the kinds of struggles they had had themselves, and she spoke very specifically to the kinds of issues Christopher faced. The two together seemed like a very good match. In the aftermath of a loss like the Darlings and the Kent State community experienced, voices like Dr. Jamison’s are incredibly helpful in making sense of things and in teaching us about our own struggles and those around us.
Jamison is a foremost expert on the link between bipolar disorder and creativity. Is there any specific message you hope she shares with students and others attending the lecture?
Part of Dr. Jamison’s message is that your mental health is just as important as your physical health and that it’s important to reach out, to seek appropriate medical care. Whether your care is counseling or medication, it’s crucial that you ask for help. And while artists tend to be a lot more vocal about mental health issues, this isn’t something that only targets certain groups. So whether you’re a painter or a musician or a poet, or even a botanist or a lawyer or an athlete, what you’re feeling is real, and you need to know that you’re valuable, you’re worth helping and you can be helped.
Mental health and the arts is a subject that has gained some traction recently, but what are the next steps to mitigating barriers and opening the conversation further?
One of the great mythologies in art is that mental disorders are the fuel that powers the art, rather than an illness that interferes with learning and growing in your art. Talking about illness in a less romantic, more therapeutic way can help remove some of that mystique that can sometimes make artists hesitant about seeking treatment. Dr. Jamison talks about medication – and that’s really helpful – but it’s also important to get counseling. That can really help you understand how your illness impacts your whole life and you can learn to develop effective coping mechanisms and strategies to manage your health in a more complete way.
Tell me about the exhibition featuring Darling’s work. Why is now the right time to highlight it and what do you hope attendees glean from it?
The exhibit is a retrospective of Christopher’s work, personal work and professional work, stemming back to his youth. The show features much of his recent work, which is based on social activism. Christopher was an inspiration in the way he brought people together to unite on a creative front, and I think that’s really important to students and people in the community these days.
Are there any particular works of Darling’s to be featured that are particularly special to you?
Christopher’s recent work that centers on social activism is certainly art that is special to me. His educational classes at Community Based Correctional Facility in Cleveland led to the Hough Mural, which was a really powerful experience for everyone involved. His series “Everywhere is Cleveland” is another impressive piece about the city that shows the cultural richness in the area and we are showing some of those in the gallery exhibit.
Darling’s wife and parents will be guests of honor at the opening. His work will be on view through March 19.
For more information, visit kent.edu/cci/Jamison.