Solving the riddle of “what is art?” has no easy answer… although one “logical” approach is to create art shaped by a pre-determined framework: a prescription. While this may sound novel, I will illustrate how art has very often been made to a prescribed format, for which one of the most contemporary interpretations is a literal prescription for art: social prescribing. This involves a health professional writing a social prescription for delivery by a non-clinical practitioner. Examples include art classes, visiting museums and gardening, for conditions including social anxiety, depression and isolation: scenarios that are key for addressing mental wellbeing.

My talk will give visual examples from art history (think of commissioned portraits as prescriptions); modern and contemporary art (rule-based art and art multiples are prescriptive considerations); and a focus on mental wellbeing through social prescriptions. Although not regularly available in Canada, social prescribing is common in the UK, and is a practice that has been seen to have positive social impact improving feelings of belonging and mental well-being.

As an artist, curator, writer and educator Dick Averns’ art practice probes how mental and physical spaces are valued and exchanged. He works as Curatorial Coordinator for the University of Calgary Founders’ Gallery located at the Military Museums. Diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in adulthood, his art and mental wellness public art project Recognition… Validation… Reassurance… contributed to his winning the 2020 Mayor’s Award for Healing Through the Arts.

Free, online event.

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Candy Chang, Before I Die, 2011 – present. Photo Dick Averns, Salt Lake City, 2018.