Mental Health: Art More Than Fun

“Guys” rarely cry in Bordeaux prison. Except, perhaps, after passing through the seminary concerts that the Orchester de l’Agora, under the baton of the young conductor Nicolas Ellis, has been giving there since last July. But these, like many other events, were interrupted in November by the pandemic.

These tears, seen by prison chaplain Stefan Roy after concerts with prisoners, show that a culture that goes far beyond mere “entertainment” is a powerful indicator of our humanity.

After the concert, they “calmed down,” says the chaplain who launched the project. “They returned to their place, “inside,” as we say when we return to prison. And, frankly, it is not customary in a male prison environment to go “inside” oneself. You don’t cry in prison. Art can weaken, remove masks, put you in a state of vulnerability. I find that he will look for beauty in them. There are guys who come back to me with ideas that come from their originality, their creativity. »

While the government has just launched a mental health plan and is counting on psychologists who could implement it, the lack of living art in the lives of Quebecers caused by the pandemic is acutely felt.

Art and psychology, the same struggle

For psychologist Nicolas Levesque, art and psychology go hand in hand. “Psychology is the art of speech, emotion and presence. The same principal axes are used. Both, he elaborates, “emphasize the process more than the result” and offer “a different relationship to time and space.”

It’s an extended relationship to space-time, “that’s what’s at stake,” he says, “in a system completely eaten up by ideals of efficiency.” Moreover, he notes, many medical professionals choose to leave the state system precisely in order to save their art. Like art, psychology can influence generations and empower people to reinvent themselves. Man is the only animal capable of this. “A fish cannot imitate a dog, but people can play something different than they really are,” explains Nicolas Levesque.

“People need a different stage than their current stage, a different language, a different relationship to time and space,” he continues. It is in this way that Shakespeare continues to influence the public for several generations after his death, and that psychology, according to Nicolas Levesque, also a psychoanalyst, can benefit several generations in the same family. Without a theatre, without a living culture to project ourselves into, we have been living in a kind of “symbolic prison” for almost two years now.

And in our oppressed societies, the pandemic has hastened the disappearance of this “laboratory” from which “the best ideas and the best solutions” still come, whether in art or in the workshop of basic research.

“We lacked creativity from the start,” Levesque says. And if it’s true that art is also entertainment, as National Director of Public Health Luc Boileau summed it up this week, it also writes a great history of culture. In other words, part of human history.

What is the vision of culture?

This sense of abandonment, conductor Nicholas Ellis, who notably founded the Orchester de l’Agora, also experienced it in Quebec during the pandemic. Remember that the Orchester de l’Agora has set itself the task of “redefining the role of classical musicians in society, enabling them to collectively increase their impact on the world.” He also works in collaboration with the Montreal Opera and Saint-Justine University Hospital Center with adolescents in psychiatry or, through the Share Hope program, with children who have limited access to cultural activities.

For Nicholas Ellis, the problem is not so much the imposition of restrictions on the cultural environment, but the non-integration of the environment into the plan of society.

“We get the impression that our minister of culture is completely isolated in the state decision-making apparatus,” he said. And this lack of communication effect sends a more troubling signal to the cultural environment about the importance that culture has in our society. What we want is a rich, culturally diverse and healthy society that will exist and develop well. […] Is there such a vision of culture within the government? This is a cry of alarm that many artists and organizations are sounding. »

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