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Art and Images in Psychiatry
December 2014

Cunningham Dax Collection

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(12):1316-1317. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2771

The purpose of psychiatric art is not to assist the elaboration of classification but to lead to better understanding of the experiences of psychiatric disorders and to give emotional relief to the individuals concerned.

Eric Cunningham Dax1(p6)

In 1946, Dr Eric Cunningham Dax, superintendent of Netherne Hospital in Surrey, England, invited a professional artist, Edward Adamson, to initiate and facilitate art programs for patients hospitalized at this pioneering psychiatric hospital. This quiet beginning was the first formal introduction of art into mainstream psychiatry. Under Adamson, Netherne Hospital became a national center for art therapy in the United Kingdom, and Adamson the founder of British art therapy. In 1952, Dax left the United Kingdom and took up the position of Chairman of the Mental Health Authority in Melbourne, Australia, a position he held until 1968. As he had done at Netherne Hospital, Dax modernized inpatient and community psychiatric services and introduced and established art therapy in psychiatric hospitals in Australia. As was done at Netherne Hospital, an art master served as a resource to encourage creative expression by patients but did not interpret their works. Art created by patients was reviewed by treating staff members and became part of the each patient’s medical record. In 1953, Dax published Experimental Studies in Psychiatric Art,2 which is based on his work with Adamson at Netherne Hospital.

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