Gretel Killeen

About Gretel Killeen

Gretel Killeen is the author of more than twenty books. At various times she hosts radio and television programs across the country, works as a journalist, stand-up comic and voice artist, and writes and directs feature films and documentaries.

Art Farts: The case for using art as therapy

Over in Canada, patients are treated with a heavy dose of free art. Considering the true value of the form against our everyday ailments, more of it, I say.



Some weeks you see lots of three-legged dogs, some weeks you bump into lots of blokes who look like someone you used to go out with, and some weeks a lot of people tell you that they’ve “kind of lived enough” and wouldn’t mind dying. That’s what happened this week.

I was in a jewellery shop with a 20-year-old workmate, Doris, when the most recent incident occurred. While commenting on how hard it was to see the value of diamonds with the naked eye the 62-year-old shop assistant told us she not only finds it hard to see with her “old eyes” but she also has “bad knees”, “a bad hip”, rheumatism and a husband who recently started “sleep eating”…and if anything else goes wrong she’ll be happy to die. In response, Doris gasped and replied “What the copulation!!!” or words to that effect.

It’s a funny thing life. While some struggle to cling to it or risk their lives to protect the lives of loved ones or even strangers, others might take their own life or wish their lives away. I have no judgment. Life isn’t fair. While some are blessed with a life of luxury and glory, some struggle with illness or are burdened with the onerous perspective that life is a repetitive unrewarding battle, which cannot be won, no matter how hard one fights.

This perception is fed daily by assorted influences including our political climes of uncertainty, treachery and greed which reduce the worth of our lives to the value of the economic contribution we make. The cruelly heavy weight of worthlessness can add to the stress, anxiety, isolation and depression many of us already feel. These in turn can result in physical ailments, which ironically are then financially costly to society. It’s a chicken and egg and a “what the copulation!!!” situation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our world finally realised that our creativity, our connection and our natural environment, turned out to not only be essential to our happiness and well being but also our economic growth.

But some organisations globally are dealing with this malaise, and other physical and mental illnesses, with an affordable, accessible and beautifying remedy; access to a dose of art.

In Canada a new initiative is starting whereby doctors can “prescribe” free access for a patient to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This is motivated in part by the fact that looking at art appears to have significant and positive effects on many facets of our health. In the US many health care institutions now include art therapy and the placement of visual art in hospitals as part of health care programming. In Australia a diverse range of therapeutic creative courses is on offer with the goal of health rather than fame and fortune.

Having spent a life in the arts I know that money is not the measure of its value. Many of those involved make a frugal financial living but their lives are rich with friends, laughter, connection, community and purpose. I sing like a drill and dance like an eggbeater; it’s fun, it’s a release, it’s sometimes goal driven, it’s sometimes play.

In the UK, where apparently 20% of doctor visits are not for medical but for “social” reasons, a variety of forms of “social prescriptions” are currently available and hoping to expand. In Scotland’s Shetland Islands, a program for nature prescriptions is now available throughout the region. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our world finally realised that the very aspects of life which so many in our society have dismissed as frippery, our creativity, our connection and our natural environment, turned out to not only be essential to our happiness and well being…but also our economic growth.


Gretel Killeen is a writer and performer insta & twitter @gretelkilleen.


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