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Kusama: A Dot, a Gesture, a Subconscious Addition to History

Yayoi Kusama, "Infinity Nets Yellow" (1960).

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Yayoi Kusama, a household name, one of the world’s most famous living female artists; originated her signature dot motif from hallucinating a household tablecloth. The Art World is familiar with context behind the trauma that inspired her works; her traumatic childhood and 1950s post-war Japan, but is the medical world aware of her contributions to the development of Mental Health?

Considering the popularity of therapy today, the term ‘Art Therapy’ is relatively new as it was coined in 1942 by artist Adrian Hill[1]. Prior to this, Mental Health as an idea and practice was rapidly evolving, but a relatively new science perceived and treated drastically differently worldwide. Treatment for the mentally ill in 1950s Japan was often hospitalisation, due to widely held cultural misconceptions about the illnesses. This left Kusama without the option of medical aid, thus she created her own treatment through her artwork.

Recent studies have shown that ‘repetition of directives reduces anxiety, and visually creating narratives help clients build coping skills and balanced nervous system responses.’[2] By replicating the dots she saw on the tablecloth, Kusama processed the visual impacts she had, but subconsciously found peace through her physical gestures. ‘The only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art.’[3] In a world where this information was not known, her career now only increases in significance in considering the development of therapeutic techniques, and how Kusama replicated its effects without realising.

For the viewer Kusama’s work omits infinity and pleasure in its intricate depth, yet simultaneously holds the power in her artistry in the process of its creation. Perhaps a component of her rise to fame in the 1990s can be attributed to the worlds popularisation and de-stigmatisation of therapy and mental sciences, as she was already an established artist. The dots are now a recognisable feature of her work, and have become a core example in the history of Art Therapy.

[1] Rubin, Judith Aron, Art Therapy: An Introduction, Psychology Press, (1999) p.266 [2] Hass-Cohen, Noah; Findlay, Joanna Clyde; Carr, Richard; Vanderlan, Jessica, Check, Change What You Need To Change and/or Keep What You Want: An Art Therapy Neurobiological-Based Trauma Protocol, 31(2) (Los Angeles: Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 2014) (69–78. [3] Biography YK. Art and Analysis of Works. The Art Story. 2018. Available from: . (original quote from her autobiography)

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