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The art of healing

For as long as man has existed, catharsis has often embodied artistic expression. For award-winning photographer Rachel L. Goldstein 01Ox 03C, capturing her mother's 22-year struggle with manic depression became an artistic journey she continues to this day. "My images explore the shifting moods, the daily trials, and the family dynamics associated with the disorder," says Goldstein, who earned her Master of Fine Arts degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

By Michelle Valigursky
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For as long as man has existed, catharsis has often embodied artistic expression. For award-winning photographer Rachel L. Goldstein 01Ox 03C, capturing her mother’s 22-year struggle with manic depression became an artistic journey she continues to this day. “My images explore the shifting moods, the daily trials, and the family dynamics associated with the disorder,” says Goldstein, who earned her master of fine arts degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). “I strive to visually represent different aspects of our life with her illness. Through the layering of photographic imagery, often with text, I am able to share a complex reality as well as create an escape into the surreal.”

Like any long-term illness, family members of the affected individual absorb the ramifications in different ways. “My mom’s illness impacts everyone around her, and I began to document singular moments in our days as my senior thesis for my master’s degree in fine arts.” The resulting collection of imagery is “Layers of the Mindscape,” a haunting glimpse into the sometimes peaceful and calm, and at other times frenetic, mental processing of the individual with a differently-wired brain. “When singular images didn't quite work to convey the messages I was trying to communicate, I began combining them, creating collages with them,” she says. “In a sense, the images are incomplete; they are to be experienced like a puzzle, but one with no resolution.”

Goldstein teaches personal expression through artistic endeavors and understands its therapeutic value. In her May photography classes at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, she will teach her students more than the basics of imagery. “I want to challenge them to use their cameras to document reality in a new way and make a lasting statement with their work.”

Though its production method may lean toward technological advances, Goldstein’s work typifies the need for artists to evolve emotions in their work. “It’s more often than not that artists work from some emotional or, at times, physical distress. And the way this distress works itself out in art is frequently counterintuitive," says Todd Cronan, assistant professor of art history at Emory College. “Some of the artists I’m most interested in—Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse, for instance—were characterized as hedonists in their lifetime, as though their art reflected a cheerful (or lax) temperament. But as Bonnard said, ‘one doesn’t always whistle out of happiness.’ Matisse would certainly agree; he was an insomniac and Monet suffered from multiple ailments. Which is to say, catharsis might figure in truly unexpected ways.”

On Emory’s Campus, the Emory University Center for Ethics through its Ethics and the Arts Initiative is hosting an exhibit through May 14 of emotionally and visually striking paintings by artist Sal Brownfield, a longtime Emory friend. “Celebration of Healing: Lives Impacted by Breast Cancer” examines real men’s and women’s stories of how their lives were touched by breast cancer. Brownfield has explained that an idea and some paint grew into a web of relationships and that the process of creating his paintings impacted him in profound ways.